LAKEVIEW — Making good on a promise to be a good neighbor to East Lakeview businesses, Mariano's Fresh Market executives met Wednesday with potential vendors for the incoming grocery store at 3030 N. Broadway.
About 30 Chicago small businesses met with buyers and the chain's executive chef Wednesday at Lakeview Kitchen and Market, 3109 N. Broadway. Members of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce and a dozen Lakeview Kitchen and Market start-up businesses participated, from Linda's Magic Brownies to Windy City Sweets.
The 71,000-square-foot Mariano's is expected to open in late August, followed by a Bronzeville Mariano's in October.
The Arlington Heights-based chain — which Kroger acquired in November as part of an $800 million deal — has always sought partnerships with Chicago small businesses, said Amanda Puck, director of strategic brand development.
"We're such a big embracer of the really cool trend of the moment, and then we also love the traditional candies and popcorns and foods Chicago is known for," Puck said. "We're hitting all those points."
Mariano's scopes out local gems during annual "meet the buyers" expos. The company will also visit with Bronzeville entrepreneurs next week.
While most vendors will start off in their neighborhood store, high demand could propel them to citywide distribution, Puck said.
"Mariano's started out in the suburbs, and it has that same mission and motto as I do," which meant going into business with them "made sense to me," said Kate Merrill, owner of Kate's Cookies.
The Lakeview Mariano's is expected to open in late August at 3030 N. Broadway. Work progresses in this July 27 photo as crews hang a Starbucks sign. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
After four years in business and about a year in Lakeview Kitchen and Market, Merrill has ramped up her work, readying for "the next step." Her Mariano's moment came just a week after announcing Kate's Cookies and Homemade Sin Bakery would partner on an Edgewater bakery and coffeehouse.
"I'm at the point where I want to introduce my product to other people," Merrill said. "I'm excited, I'm having fun with it. I know good things will happen, whether with Mariano's or somewhere else."
On Wednesday, Merrill and other chefs shared their start-up stories and the homegrown roots of many of their businesses. Merrill learned to bake with her great-grandmother as a child.
"The thing that stood out most with the family element — recipes from a grandmother in France. There were brothers from Logan Square," Puck said. "It's nice to hear these stories and histories and their background."
There's no target number of vendors the company will partner with, giving Mariano's the freedom to select however many fit the bill, said chamber executive director Maureen Martino.
Knowing what it takes comes with experience, and having a year to grow a budding business at Lakeview Kitchen and Market was "key to our current success," said Mark Chowaniec, co-owner of The Chow Brothers.
With a new pierogi machine cranking out more Polish dumplings and a fully funded $10,000 crowdsourcing campaign, The Chow Brothers — like Merrill — are also doubling down on their business efforts and see Mariano's as a leap forward.
"We were doing this 'side hustle,' for lack of a better word," said Chowaniec, who left his job last month to work with The Chow Brothers full time. The brothers served up pierogis, sauerkraut, pickled fennel and fermented beets, which the Mariano's chef expressed interest in serving in the grocery's salad bar.
After the upcoming Pierogi Fest, the brothers will search for their own storefront — turning them into another successful graduate of the year-old Lakeview Kitchen and Market.
But first, there's the allure of getting on Mariano's shelves.
"It'd be like your first touchdown, like a coming-out-of-college NFL running back who scores his first touchdown," Chowaniec said. "It would be the first score of many, hopefully."
When Mariano's opens this fall, it will end 18 months of construction and street closures that left business owners frustrated and commuters confused. In March, the city said it would close a block of North Broadway businesses indefinitely to set up Mariano's water service, before eventually rescheduling the move and canceling the water boil order.
Along with sporadic bus detours and blockades left up after designated street closures, traffic signals and patterns have been adjusted to accommodate for the increased activity on one of Lakeview's calmer corridors.
The 38th Mariano's will anchor the five-story commercial development, which is still seeking tenants for its additional 15,000 square feet of retail space. They will join Starbucks and a 40,000-square-foot XSports Fitness gym.
The East Lakeview site has been vacant since 2005, when a Dominick's grocery store burned down.
From the start, the chamber and Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) have pushed for the grocery giant to help out the struggling little guys along the street, Martino said.
"I think [Mariano's] recognized the fact that this footprint of what they're moving into is not what they're really accustomed to," Martino said.
The small, densely populated business district will rebound and adjust to its new neighbor, but the meet-and-greet was a solid step forward in "seeing how big business can help small business," she said.
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: