EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: Kowalski’s Markets Turns 40

Progressive Grocer visits the Eden Prairie, Minn., store ahead of the celebratory event
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
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Kowalski's Markets storefront
The Kowalski's Markets store in Eden Prairie, Minn., is one of 11 locations operated by that regional grocer.

Kowalski's Markets is marking a major milestone, grocery-style. The Minneapolis-area independent retailer is celebrating its 40th anniversary with special events on Saturday, Sept. 30 at all of its locations.

Shoppers can visit their local or favorite Kowalski's between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. that day and nosh on free samples, check out a variety of demos and bring home various giveaways. Kowalski’s Markets operates 11 stores in the Twin Cities market, with plans to open another site in Edina, Minn.

[Read more: “The Fresh Market Showcases Experiential Grocery in Florida”]

The business was founded by Mary Anne and Jim Kowalski in 1983, when they bought a former Red Owl Country Store and put their own touch on the grocery experience. They steadily expanded their store count over the years, focusing on elevated features like restaurant concepts, department store-quality gift shops and meal solutions. Later, Kowalski’s added a central fancily that houses a central bakery, commissary kitchen ad meat production facility.

In a letter to customers this month, owner Mary Anne Kowalski reflected on the business and Jim’s legacy. “Even 10 years after his passing, when I’m out and about, people stop me quite often to tell me about his influence on them. He was beyond proud of our daughter, Kris, as she has worked just about every area and nearly every job in the company to become the capable leader and brilliant chief executive she is today,” Kowalski wrote.

Kris Kowalski-Christiansen, one of Progressive Grocer’s 2023 Top Women in Grocery winners in the Senior-Level Executive category, also shared her thoughts with shoppers on the eve of the anniversary. “I am excited and inspired daily by this business and all of the relationships that come with it: family employs (stakeholders), friends, customers, vendors, communities…the list goes on and on,” she noted.

The founder and CEO also shared other anniversary-themed stories with Progressive Grocer. “Legend has it that Jim Kowalski wanted to name Kowalski’s Markets, “Mary Anne’s”, recalled Mary Anne Kowalski, who promptly talked him out of it. "Forty years later, I’m so glad I did."

Added Kowalski-Christiansen: "And thus, Kowalski's was born. We are celebrating each and every employee and customer that walked through our door from then to now. We are full of gratitude and are continually humbled by the generosity of our customers, employees and partners.”  

Kowalski's Markets gift shop
Kowalski's signature gift shop includes signage explaining the origins of the local grocery chain.

Progressive Grocer recently had an opportunity to tour a Kowalski’s Markets location in Eden Prairie, Minn. (see photo gallery below), where assistant manager Andrew Pass and his team were readying the market for the upcoming anniversary event.

The layout and assortment at the Eden Prairie store reflect the differentiating features of Kowalski’s Markets from its artful homemade pastries to build-your-own hot pasta bar to its gift and apparel section that will soon include a variety of items for the holidays. Pass noted that the gift shop is close to the owners’ hearts. “It’s pretty unique to our stores and I know that Kris and Mary Anne love this section. Whenever they come in and look around the store, I can always count on them buying a couple of things here – they’re some of our best customers,” he said with a laugh.

Shoppers can also find foods across the store that have a direct tie to the Kowalski family, like Aunt Betty’s chip dip that was a recipe from Jim Kowalski's mom and Mary Anne’s chocolate cake with chocolate fudge icing. “We’re not just slapping a name on it – it’s actually their recipes,” said Pass, adding, “It’s still very much a family owned business, and its’s hand-on.”

Kowalski’s Markets, Eden Prairie, Minn., Photo Gallery

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