In recent weeks, the state of Chicago’s grocery stores has come into question. In mid-October, the parent of Mariano’s announced the purchase of the parent of Jewel-Osco, potentially eliminating the beloved 123-year brand while creating a 5,000-store Kroger-Albertsons megachain across the country.
The deal surprised Don Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald says the news came without warning. A former senior executive at Dominick's and Roundy’s, Fitzgerald is no longer involved with Mariano’s, which he also co-founded. He remains in the game and is making moves of his own, securing funding to build a new brand. This week in Old Town, he and his team unveiled the second Dom’s Kitchen & Market at 1233 N. Wells Street, a store that carries many traits of a specialty grocer: fancy cheeses curated by a certified cheese sommelier, pastries from local bakeries, and a food court headlined by Bonci, the acclaimed pizza from Rome. There’s also a coffee counter and wine bar. The Old Town location, which previously housed a location of Michigan-based Plum Market, is larger (27,000 square feet) than Dom’s original market (17,000 square feet) which opened in 2021 in Lincoln Park.
Old Town isn’t exactly a grocery store desert compared to Chicago’s other 76 neighborhoods. There are two Jewels within walking distance and an Aldi around the corner at Division and Wells. Still, a Tuesday, November 1, ribbon-cutting ceremony drew celebrities. The Landans, the twin celebrity party magnates, posted pictures to Instagram. Chicago chef Lamar Moore, who often holds chef demonstrations at Dom’s in Lincoln Park, attended and Illinois secretary of state candidate and longtime Old Town resident Alexi Giannoulias spoke. Au Cheval founder Brandon Sodikoff was also present. Sodikoff joined the Dom’s team as a consultant, contributing to design. He says customers will see more of his influence in future stores (he signed with Dom’s after work in Old Town began). Customers can already buy Doughnut Vault items at Dom’s, and Fitzgerald says Sodikoff’s role will evolve. They’re still determining if Dom’s food courts will include Hogsalt Hospitality restaurants.
There was another well-known name in attendance. Mayor Lori Lightfoot touted Dom’s as a job creator and a locally owned business that gives other entrepreneurs opportunities to sell their products to a wide audience. She noted that there are plans to open 15 Chicago-area locations. A Fulton Market location is under discussion, but Fitzgerald tells Eater that Dom’s hasn’t signed a lease yet. Fitzgerald says they’re searching across the city for the right places to expand. For example, Fitzgerald mentions how he sees Dom’s wine bar as filling a niche along Wells Street, a strip filled with pubs and sports bars (save Glunz Tavern, the bar attached to 134-year-old wine shop House of Glunz). Fitzgerald gushed describing how several students from nearby Walter Payton College Preparatory High School studying after class at Dom’s.
The mayor supports expansion: “We stand ready to support you in any way that we can to bring the magic of Dom’s to other neighborhoods across our city,” Lightfoot said in remarks during the ceremony.
Later, Lightfoot spoke to Eater, emphasizing that though Dom’s could be seen as a big business — one that’s supported by millions in venture capital — Chicagoans should recognize that shopping there supports hundreds of “local businesses and their opportunity to grow and thrive by giving them a footprint and then introducing their brand to customers.”
The mayor also singled out the prepared food at Dom’s. Its food court, which essentially puts multiple restaurants — serving sushi, sandwiches, pizza, and more — under a single roof.
“I think that that’s really something that customers crave,” the Lightfoot says. “I know myself and my family — we enjoy that when we’re short on time. We don’t want to do the cooking ourselves, not to just order delivery. Going to a store, where it’s cooked fresh in front of you, you feel like you’re getting this kind of additional special experience.”
But the mayor is keeping a close eye as government regulators review the proposal for Kroger to buy Albertsons, Lightfoot says she’s concerned about jobs and if consolidation — potentially resulting in Jewel and Mariano’s closures — could limit consumer choices in certain areas of the city.
“I want to make sure that the workers are protected and that the customers still have opportunities in the same areas that those stores are located in,” the mayor said. So we’re going to be watching this very closely and as appropriate we’ll weigh in.”
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald is focusing on allowing Dom’s to thrive. He talked about “disrupting” the market, a term made famous in Silicon Valley. If Mariano’s and Jewel-Osco become one, that will force Dom’s to refine its business models, and that’s something they’ve been doing anyway. For example, at Dom’s Lincoln Park the meat section initially stocked only boneless cuts. Fitzgerald says they didn’t have the staff with the necessary butchery skills. At Old Town, there’s more space, and they’ll be able to cut meat to order — even for holidays.
As Lightfoot lauded the effort by Dom’s team, she also mentioned a lesser-known store. The mayor stays a fan of Middle East Grocery in Andersonville: “There’s very few ethnic foods that I don’t enjoy,” she says.