Retailers

5 Questions for Dom's Kitchen & Market's Kelsey Collins

Kelsey Collins, Dom's Kitchen & Market
Photographs from Kelsey Collins and WGB staff

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.

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