A combination of tradition and innovation served up the Chicago way.
Originally printed in the September 2023 issue of Produce Business.
Dom’s Kitchen & Market is a combination of tradition and innovation served up the Chicago way to create a fresh take on the old-fashioned corner market.
The updated variation of the corner market includes a cafe dubbed The Brew, where patrons can enjoy wine, beer and cocktails on one side and coffee on the other. The Kitchen is the place where they can order a range of dishes for take out or delivery, with a menu ranging from soup and sandwiches to pizza and pasta to sushi and salads. Customers can even enjoy a glass of wine while shopping at The Market, which, despite all the rest, is a central element in the Dom’s operation.
The Market has a heavy produce focus in a limited SKU, but quality-oriented food assortment, with variety a priority, even in a relatively small space.
Yet, the institution of the corner market is only one element of the operation’s tradition. Even its founders come with a Chicago food pedigree, as they represent the founding families behind two iconic Chicago supermarket chains, Dominick’s and Mariano’s.
Today, the Dom’s operation consists of two stores. The first opened in June 2021 in the trendy Lincoln Park neighborhood, with just under 18,000 square feet of space. The Old Town location opened in November 2022 in 27,000 square feet of space. And plans include more stores.
Steve Jarzombek, Dom’s chief merchandising officer, says bringing the experience of the corner market to the two neighborhoods, but with a modern twist, was the intention addressed in concept development and execution. Dom’s operations arise from a simple premise — a place residents can walk in and get great food in a welcoming environment.
And not only that, says Jarzombek, but the stores offer food that’s healthy and satisfies the preferences of residents. The company also embraces bringing aboard minority- and women-owned suppliers.
A LOCAL EXPERIENCE
The founders, says Jarzombek, “had this vision to bring great food to a neighborhood that would appeal across all generations. It’s about walking in and getting really great food. It’s about the local experience.”
Local produce is an important part of the product mix. Dom’s features products grown locally by Wilder Farms, Square Roots, Gotham Greens and Four Star Mushrooms.
“There are so many cool produce companies, so we have really great local vendors,” he says.
In the summer, growers also include Mick Klug and Nichols Farm & Orchard, which help round out the local presentation.
Jarzombek is an enthusiast when it comes to local and produce in general, with 47 years in the business working for banners such as Dominick’s and Roundy’s, and doing a stint on the United Fresh board of directors.
The layout of Dom’s Marketplace puts produce right in front of shoppers entering the store. Jarzombek says the focus is immediately presenting consumers with attractive merchandising of quality fruits and vegetables. Although curated, as are the other fresh food departments in a very dynamic, compact store format, variety is still important, he says, and the stores carry about 550 SKUs.
Jarzombek characterizes himself as a “fanatic” when it comes to quality, and he’s focused on eye-catching fruits and vegetables at a price that enhances the value, such as the case recently when Dom’s offered 36-count avocados for 99 cents each.
Jarzombek wants to provide as much variety as circumstances and demand allow. In that case, Dom’s has a significant organics program. Yet, curation is important, particularly given the demographic mix that informs Chicago culture. So, he has to take care to ensure the assortment is in line with local shoppers’ needs and priorities. The trick is to update the department to excite customers with new trending items built around major needs.
“People want to try things, and I think they open up recipe books and they say, ‘Well, I need some thyme,’ or ‘I need some basil,’ or ‘This calls for an heirloom tomato.’ And they want to be able to find them in one place,” says Jarzombek.
Dom’s is also working to address other considerations of younger consumers who make up much of its clientele.
“This generation, the younger generation, the 25s to 45s, they’re about nutrition, they’re about good fruit, they want to nourish bodies,” says Jarzombek. “They eat well. To a large extent, they want organic and natural. They want to make sure they have the right food. We probably are running about a little over 20% organic, with about 135 SKUs of organic,” says Jarzombek.
At the same time, he points out, local has become an even more important issue for Dom’s customers.
“I believe people become very emotional over local produce, and they are willing to pay for it,” he says.
FARM TO STORE
In the summer, Dom’s mounts farmers market-style displays of local produce from the various growers.
“There is a passionate, emotional connection to the local farmer,” Jarzombek says. “We have had local farmers call us and say, ‘we have cucumber, tomatoes and peppers.’ We put them in our vestibules as you walk in.”
“It’s amazing to me, when you put up that this farm is 20 miles from the store, how fast people grab the stuff,” he adds. “I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten phone calls from store directors saying three hours after we put the stuff in, it was gone.”
Throughout his career and up to the present, Jarzombek says he believes in supporting locals. “The problem in the produce industry is, the majority of the produce is grown west of the Mississippi, and you have huge populations that live east of the Mississippi. There is a lot of rail going on now, but not enough. You’re still transporting everything by truck.”
Supplementing the contribution of traditional local farmers with growers using indoor spaces can encourage and strengthen bonds in the community.
“Typically, a lot of these growers are using the right amount of light, the right amount of nutrients, right amount of water, and the plants are a lot healthier,” says Jarzombek. “It really is good to see a lot of them popping up in areas that never grew produce in January or February or March. At Bushel Boy in Minnesota, you have tomatoes growing in the heart of winter in Minnesota. It’s awesome.”
Fresh produce also has an important role in the foodservice part of the Dom’s operation.
“We’ve got a kitchen in back and we’ve got a center kitchen,” says Jarzombek. “We’ve got chef-inspired recipes and dishes by Chef James Klewin. He’s remarkable with ingredients. Everything is fresh. In the store, we cut our own fruit, we cut our own veggies, we make our own guacamole, we make our own pico, we make our own juice.”
Main dishes, too, are made fresh in the store, “with vegetables to go with them, whether it’s broccolini or fingerling potatoes. They’re brought in fresh daily. A lot of them are local. He uses a lot of fresh produce to inspire his creations.”
At the same time, Dom’s offers about 10 salads in its ongoing foodservice operation. “He has arugula, he uses frisée, he uses different greens,” says Jarzombek.
Produce takes a place of pride throughout Dom’s Kitchen & Market, providing freshness, flavor and healthfulness to a customer base that’s hungry for it.
Dom’s Lincoln Park
2730 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL