Bob Mariano


The mind behind Mariano’s.

The concept behind Mariano’s Fresh Market was designed with the consumer in mind: to deliver the highest quality products from around the world. CEO Robert Mariano opened his first eponymous grocery store in Arlington Heights (July 2010), and with eight locations in the Chicago area, you’ll find just about everything from kosher bagels to Italian mozzarella imported from Caserta. Mariano’s neighborly shopping environment is filled with amenities like an Italian coffee shop, a sit-down sushi bar and more. The store’s “Shop well. Eat well. Live well” tagline is fitting, as Mr. Mariano and his employees exude the philosophy on a daily basis. Keep reading and you’ll see what we mean…

Where did you get the idea for Mariano’s? From traveling I’d done throughout Europe. I was working on the concept of a European food hall. There was always a thought to take that and combine it with everyday needs.

How does Mariano’s differ from other grocery stores? I just happened to be with a customer who said, ‘Here’s my impression: I get great quality, I get everything I need in one place, I get people who want to help me, and I get very good prices. You exceed in every level.’ I think our customers’ responses speak better than I can. Our employees do things day in and day out to wow the customers. And you can’t order that or dictate it as management; you have to create the environment so it feels natural and genuine.

How do you manage to give customers quality items for less money? The economic model we’ve built here is predicated on high-volume units and the notion that food is a staple that nourishes our families. So you must have confidence that the prices are fair. They’re not high on some days and low on others, because that adds stress to the customers. No customer wants to pay 50 cents more for something on a certain day.

What do you love most about Mariano’s? The soup bar – we make all soups in-house. Those are all our own recipes developed by our executive chef, Sue Becker. And the chicken potpie is extraordinarily great – we make it in our commissary.

And your fried chicken was among Time Out Chicago’s ‘Top 100 Things We Ate This Year.’Yes, we go through a fair amount of work to make that fried chicken. I believe if we’re going to prepare food it has to be done in a traditional way and not with short cuts.

Will we see a Mariano’s in every neighborhood soon? We have eight area stores right now, and five are currently under construction: Frankfurt, Harwood Heights, Elmhurst, Wheaton and another store on 16th and Clark will open up later this year. And it looks like another four to five will open in 2014. Our goal in the next three to five years is to have about 25-30 stores.

Best advice you ever received? Dominick [DiMatteo, owner and founder of Dominick’s Finer Foods] used to always say, ‘Take care of the customer one at a time.’ He’d also say, ‘Who is your customer and how are you trying to serve them? Continuously look how to do it better, how to do it more relevant to your customer.’

Fave restaurant hidden gem? Piccolo Sogno.

Share the next food trend. We’re in the middle of it – the notion that today’s customer is interested in meals. For us it’s not product, it’s meals. They think about, ‘Where do I go eat?’ So it’s different than 15-20 years ago, when they’d come and buy all the ingredients.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Well, not golfing and not sailing. I open grocery stores, so I’ll probably be doing about the same.

Best part of your job? Watching people be successful. Watching people serve customers, the smiles on customers’ faces, the genuine thanks they see and the pride that the employees see. Mariano’s is its own community.

Sarah Levy

About Sarah Levy Imberman

Sarah Levy delighted millions as the owner and proprietor of Sarah's Pastries & Candies, one of Chicago's most popular confectionaries since its opening in 2004. A graduate of Northwestern University and the French Pastry School, Ms. Levy is the author of Sweetness: Delicious Baked Treats for Every Occasion and the winner of the Food Network Challenge. She’s been featured in USA TodayBetter Homes and Gardens and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. Ms. Levy's now doing business as S. Levy Foods, and is a leader in the airport food concession business.