The days of in-and-out grocery shopping in Wheaton are about to come to an end if the owners of the new Mariano's Fresh Market have their way.
From the in-store bars serving smoothies and gelato, to the cafe serving grilled steak fresh from the meat counter, to the food preparation courses offered in the main lobby, Mariano's officials vow to make shopping an event and their store at Naperville and Roosevelt roads a destination.
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Standing in the 100-seat cafe Friday morning, Roundy's Founder and CEO Bob Mariano said the store officially will open at 6 a.m. Tuesday. Once that happens, he said, it won't take long for the cafe to be bustling with students studying, business folks meeting and perhaps even young couples on dates dining in and topping it off with a gelato.
It's not uncommon, he said, for Mariano's customers to spend as many as three or four hours during a visit.
"Mariano's is an experience, so come in and have fun. That's it. I don't care if you do anything else here as long as you have fun," Mariano said during an exclusive tour of the store. "Food has become a pain for folks who work all day and now have to figure out what's for dinner. But we've arrived and we're going to make food fun again."
Some customers, he said will choose to grab a meal to eat in the store while others will choose to grab one of the specially prepared dinners to microwave at home.
"Then we've got the lady who's watching the food channel and decides she needs the latest Turkish spice to make the dish she just learned about," he said. "You know what? We've got that, too."
Just need a wine and cheese spread for the night? Mariano's cheese expert, has you covered.
"We've got over 350 varieties of domestic and imported cheese from 25 countries but that does you no good if you don't know how to serve it," Mariano said. "We'll demystify all of these cheeses, tell you what to pair it with and take stress completely out of the process."
Had a rough week and need to unwind to get through your Friday evening shopping? Mariano's will have a wine wall.
"We'll pop a cork for you," he said. "And we'll serve it to you in a glass. No paper cups here."
Stress-free shopping begins with each of his 425 Wheaton employees, he said, and ends with the company's "no butts in the aisle" check out policy designed to get customers out the door as fast as they want to go.
Employees have been training for weeks, but Mariano said the customer service aspect will be ingrained in them during a Saturday morning pep rally.
"All your life you've been told to not talk to strangers. At Mariano's we talk to strangers and we have fun with it," he said.
"If they don't want to do that, then what we tell them, very nicely, is 'We want to promote you to customer full time. You need to find some other industry to be in.'"
Despite the amenities, Mariano claims his prices will be in line with competitors.
"If all the customers wanted was cheap, most people like us would have been out of the business a long time ago," he said. "Cheap is cheap. American customers are smarter than that. They don't want cheap, they want value. Do they want good prices? Darn tootin' they do. They're smart consumers. They're savvy: They want quality and choices, good prices and to be treated well. They want all of it."
The hours before Tuesday's 6 a.m. opening likely will be pure chaos, he said, pointing to the store's empty produce, butcher, seafood and floral sections.
"It will be crazy. All of our fresh comes in 24 hours before we open the doors, so it will be hectic up until the time we open," he said. "It's a thousand and one details. The details matter."
The details matter so much, he said, that within the first week of the store's opening, he'll be pulling data on the top 100 items sold and comparing them to the top 100 items in his 12 other Chicago-area stores.
"We'll look for the anomalies right away and make appropriate decisions, because there's no time to mess around," he said. "If our customers want something I don't have, I've got to get it. And if I've got something they don't want, it's got to go to make room for what they do want."