Kelsey Collins is category manager at the new Dom's Kitchen & Market in Chicago. Dom's, from former Roundy's CEO and Mariano's founder Bob Mariano, opened June 8 in the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood seeking to be an all-day, one-stop shop for good food: not too big to be a chore to shop, not so small or niche as to be lacking grocery essentials. Part market, part multi-station destination for prepared foods—made-to-order salads, rotisserie items, sushi, sandwiches and pizza—Dom's is seeking to carve out its own space in a neighborhood not short on grocery options. Collins talked with Winsight Grocery Business about making that happen, opening Dom's doors as Chicago fully reopened and going up against restaurants for top talent in a tough labor market.
Christine LaFave Grace: Thinking about Chicago and the unique kind of grocery market it is—you’ve got people on the one hand who will say, “We’ve been going to Jewel for 100 years; that’s what we do,” and on the other hand people who are really into exploring signature neighborhood markets and ethnic grocery stores—what need does Dom’s meet locally?
Kelsey Collins: I think it’s a couple of things. One that we’re particularly proud of and hope that everyone feels when they walk in is the sense of really bringing food and community together.
In our mind, it’s not only finding interesting products in the way that they’re made or maybe the type of product it is, but it’s the interesting stories and those suppliers we can be really proud of—local products, women-owned products, Black and other people-of-color-made products—really trying to bring the best of all of those together in one place.
We want to be that place you can come for happy hour—that you can enjoy a great glass of wine and a great meal—or that place where you can have that sense of discovery and find those cool stories that you maybe can’t find anywhere else, and then you can also find the things that you really need: the eggs for your recipe tonight, or milk that you can throw in your basket along with some of those other great finds. I think another great part about it, to that aspect of curation that we talked about earlier, is that our shelves aren’t overwhelming. You really can walk in, find what you need, and you’re not missing those cool products, because they’re not buried with other items.
Is that something that you see setting Dom’s apart from, for example, Whole Foods’ three-story flagship Chicago store (also in Lincoln Park)?
Oh gosh, definitely. The curation and the size would, but I think also the center kitchen does. We’ve been seeing and hearing every day—people come in, they grab a cup of coffee, they grab a breakfast sandwich, and they sit down and enjoy it while reading the paper. And then they get up and they go grocery shopping. That’s multiple distinct trips within one visit that you can’t do everywhere.
Can you tell me about the decision behind putting brand stories online?
It really has been all about discovery as we put the store together, and now it’s really all about discovery for our shoppers. We really want them to discover these new flavors, these new brands, new experiences that we’re offering, and it’s really hard to do that just from the shelf. So we’ve been trying to find new ways to share these stories that we’ve been so proud to find and are so proud of to have, and so putting these stories on the website was just one way of doing that. And part of why we did that as well some of our electronic shelf-tag system in the store is powered with near-field communication technology, so shoppers will be able to literally hold their phone up to the tag and it will take them to the site where they can learn more about the story.
Just in the first week-and-a-half, what else have you observed that has stuck out in your mind? How does what you’re seeing so far compare with your expectations?
We really knew we had something special with the center kitchen, and that has certainly met and exceeded our expectations, but I think we were really blown away by just how much market shopping people are doing too. We knew we were building something special, but we expected it to be a little bit of [convenience-oriented], picking up those few things for dinner or whatever you needed, but the market has really exceeded our expectations, a lot people really enjoying that discovery aspect and building bigger baskets and doing more shopping than we anticipated.
As Dom’s is building out its team, it looked from the store’s website the other day like there were about 20 open positions. How is the labor market looking for Dom’s right now?
Certainly we’ve been seeing the labor shortages across the retail industry. We’ve also been seeing as many restaurants are coming back and continuing to open that the competition really is fierce for the best applicants. We’ve been seeing that further complicated by extended unemployment benefits. But we’re confident that we’re going to continue to attract great talent, and we have been since the opening; we just certainly have been facing some of those challenges we’ve been hearing from other retailers and restaurants.
No, it's not a smaller version of a Mariano's store: The new Dom's Kitchen & Market in Chicago, from former Roundy's CEO and Mariano's founder Bob Mariano, doesn't want to be just a place where neighborhood shoppers stop when they need to replenish their refrigerator and pantry staples.
But neither is the store, which opened June 8 in the city's Lincoln Park neighborhood, meant to be so niche and specialty-focused that customers won't find brands they recognize—or will have to go elsewhere to get everything on their ingredient list for dinner. Not unlike Target and the experiential sweet spot it seeks to hit in the mass-merchandise space, the emphasis at Dom's is on discovery and creating a friendly, colorful, easy-to-shop in-store experience that highlights items customers didn't know they needed to make their next meal stand out.
Fresh chicken at the meat counter? Yes, but also sliced and marinated street tacos chicken and chicken tinga. Freshly made doughnuts at breakfast—the store is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily—and freshly prepared Roman-style pizza for lunch or dinner in the store's light-filled indoor dining area or fenced-in outdoor dining patio. There's a rotisserie, a sushi station, a beverages bar (coffee/espresso drinks, juices and beer/wine/cocktails) and a "plant butcher" serving freshly prepared salads.
Dom's aims to be a "destination for sharing, exploring, supporting, experimenting, learning and relaxing," the new concept's website states. The 10-person-deep line at the coffee bar at 8 a.m. Saturday and the crowd of runners chatting on the fenced-in outdoor seating patio suggests that, early on, at least, the message might be resonating.
Dom's Kitchen & Market opened June 8 at the corner of Halsted and Diversey in Chicago's affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot attended the store's ribbon-cutting and said the store will become the city's "newest next-generation local food emporium."
Dom's is the brainchild of Mariano, who developed the concept with two other veterans of the now-defunct Dominick's supermarket chain. Jay Owen, grandson of Dominick's founder Dominick DiMatteo (a mentor of Mariano's), serves as Dom's chairman. Don Fitzgerald, who helped Mariano launch the Mariano's banner in 2010 as chief merchandising and marketing officer of Roundy's (acquired by Kroger in 2015), is Dom's co-CEO.
The concept, announced in May 2020, raised a total of $25 million in seed funding—including $15 million from Cleveland Ventures, founded by former McDonald's CEO Don Thompson. Dom's opened its doors a few months behind the original target of March 2021—but with COVID-19 vaccinations having accelerated rapidly during spring and Chicago reopening fully on June 11, the timing may have proved fortuitous.
"Dom’s started as a vision almost three years ago, based on the belief consumers wanted a different type of meal shopping experience," Owen said at the store's opening, as reported by CBS 2 Chicago. "They wanted a place where they could learn, see, touch and enjoy great food from the kitchen to the market."
"Sharing the experience of creating and enjoying well-crafted meals is central to our commitment to service and hospitality," Dom's Kitchen & Market states on its website.
That includes a focus on having knowledgeable staff at the ready—at the meat and seafood counter and throughout the store—to answer questions and provide preparation suggestions.
A light-filled interior seating area at Dom's Kitchen & Market is designed to offer a distinct space for eating—or staring at a laptop while sipping on a drink from The Brew, the store's beverages bar and cafe. The effect is more of a library-reading-room feel than a cafe-tables-10-feet-from-the-cashier-stand vibe.
Beverage offerings at The Brew include coffees from local roasters (Big Shoulders, Brewpoint, Hexe, Intelligentsia, Metropolis), teas, nonalcohol seasonal drinks ($7-$9); and beer, wine and cocktails ($9-$12).
Organic, responsibly farmed and locally produced items, including those from women-owned and BIPOC-owned businesses, are sourcing priorities for Dom's, the company states, as it strives "to build an assortment that celebrates the rich diversity around us."
At Dom's "Plant Butcher" made-to-order salads station, customers will find standards such as Caesar and caprese as well as more out-of-the-ordinary selections—e.g., churrascaria steak (grilled skirt steak, piquillo peppers, marinated potatoes, pickled red onions, romaine and radicchio blend, chimichurri dressing, aioli drizzle and fried capers, $14.50) and peanut-tofu crunch (sesame-marinated grilled tofu, shaved cabbage, bell peppers, mango, pickled daikon and carrot, mint, cilantro, peanut sauce, $8.50).
Chicago is fully reopened as of June 11, and Dom's guest-chef demo series is up and running.
On June 19, Chicago-born chef Lamar Moore, who previously was head chef at Bugsy & Meyer's Steakhouse in Las Vegas (and who has cooked for fellow hometown favorites Barack and Michelle Obama), flipped the script on a traditional Father's Day steak dinner by demonstrating how to grill cauliflower steaks. The demonstration also was live streamed and is available for on-demand viewing on Dom's website.
At right, praise cheeses: While local and regional selections for fresh cheeses, produce and center-store items are a top priority, "our search for the finest flavor and character takes us around the world and back," Dom's website states.
When you're open early (6 a.m. seven days a week), you can attract the habit-focused early risers. Runners and cyclists grab a post-workout bite and drink on Dom's fenced-off outdoor patio on Saturday morning.
Dom's mission, as stated on the concept's website: "We offer well-crafted, locally-sourced, globally-inspired food in a warm environment of discovery and hospitality that connects people to each other and their community."