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How Passion for Grocery Is Driving Expansion at Dom’s Kitchen & Market

CEO Don Fitzgerald talks to Progressive Grocer about chance encounters with customers and the successful model of the local food hub
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Dom's Kitchen River North
A new Dom's Kitchen and Market will open in this space in the River North part of Chicago next summer.

Don Fitzgerald was just named CEO of Dom's Kitchen and Market in Chicago, but on a recent regular weekday, he was a man standing on the sidewalk in front a building under construction.

A woman passed by Fitzgerald and the group of people he was standing with, and asked, “Is this going to be the new Dom’s?”

She didn’t know she was asking the company’s co-founder and lead executive, but she had heard the news shared earlier that day of Dom’s plans to build a third store in Chicago on that block in the River North neighborhood. “She was very excited,” Fitzgerald recalled during an interview with Progressive Grocer. After talking with the woman for a while, Fitzgerald learned that she liked the European-feel vibe of the market and that she frequents the current Dom’s stores in Chicago’s Old Town and Lincoln Park.

[Read more: “Dom’s Kitchen & Market Appoints Don Fitzgerald Singular CEO”]

Taking the time to talk to a passerby – and learn more about her as a customer – is a hallmark of Fitzgerald's style as a leader and of his co-founder and mentor, Bob Mariano. The two worked closely together at Dominick’s Food Stores and later at Mariano’s in the Chicago area before launching Dom’s with Jay Owen, grandson of Dominick’s founder and store namesake Dominick DiMatteo.

“Bob taught me that while there is all the data out there, there is also something about being in the store and seeing customers and how they react to things. You have to meld that quantitative and qualitative,” he said. “AI is great but there’s nothing like meeting you (as a shopper) at the store.”

As the legacy grocers have created and are now expanding the Dom’s Kitchen & Market banner, they are relying on their deep experience and passion for the industry in other ways. “Having come up through early Dominick’s days through Mariano’s, we’ve had the experiences of being in local chains and part of larger companies," he said, adding that the ground-up proposition is especially dynamic. "Call it the way we are built or the way our DNA is formed we like things like this get our blood going."

Given that experience, Fitzgerald and Dom’s team members are mindful of the merger between The Kroger Co. and Albertsons Cos., a process that recently led to the spinoff of the Chicago-area Mariano’s banner to C&S Wholesale Grocers. “We’re keeping our eye on it. Obviously, we are interested observers, being in the industry, but for us, we have so much to do here that we need to focus on what we do and do it every day, and see how it shakes out,” he noted.

Their collective focus over the next several months is to maintain the success of the two existing stores while prepping the new location at 30 West Huron Street. The 25,000-square-foot store will be on the ground floor of the One Superior Place building and, like other Dom’s markets, is described as a food emporium with a mix of foodservice offerings, prepared foods and groceries. Dom’s is planning to collaborate with local suppliers and vendors, including some existing partners and some new ones.

Slated to open in summer 2024, the River North Dom’s Kitchen & Market is being designed as a community hub, with in-store and carryout dining meeting spaces complemented by e-commerce services. The hybrid is exciting, but not without a learning curve. “It has its challenges. We as grocers have to learn about foodservice and Chef James (Executive Chef James Klewin) has to learn about these crazy grocers. The power of it is bringing the best of both worlds together,” Fitzgerald said.

Just as he talks with customers at the store – and on the occasional city sidewalk – Fitzgerald and the other store leaders will be hands-on leaders throughout the process. “You can call it servant leadership but for us, it’s never losing the touch of where we started. If we have a big load coming in, I can jump in – my eyes aren’t as good as when I was 16 but it’s still enjoyable,” he said with a laugh.

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