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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

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Bob Mariano began his career in that market by working as a high school student as a clerk at the deli counter of a Dominick's Finer Foods store.
Bob Mariano began his career in that market by working as a high school student as a clerk at the deli counter of a Dominick's Finer Foods store. (Photo: Roundy's)

"Chairman Bob" gets last laugh in Chicago

There’s something to be said for having the last laugh and having the best laugh in business.

In this case, I’m referring to the Chicago grocery market. Bob Mariano began his career in that market by working as a high school student as a clerk at the deli counter of a Dominick’s Finer Foods store.

Mariano diligently worked his way up the company’s ladder, ultimately becoming its chief executive officer.

Along the way, Mariano’s mentor, Dominick DiMatteo, paid for him to receive his MBA from the University of Chicago.

"His passion for taking care of the customer, always trying to tickle the customer in terms of what they were looking for, his dissatisfaction with the present, was unsurpassed … It wasn’t about words, but what he did, and the relentless focus for being very, very good," Mariano told The Chicago Tribune about DiMatteo.

However, Dominick’s was sold to Pleasantville, Calif.-based Safeway Inc. in 1998. Safeway made it clear at the time that Mariano was no longer welcome as the CEO. Mariano soon parted ways.

Safeway’s takeover "was not an enjoyable or enlightening experience," Mariano recalled.

A five-year non-compete agreement led to a pause in Mariano’s retail career.

However, in 2002, Mariano moved 90 miles north to become chairman and chief executive officer of Milwaukee-based Roundy’s Inc.

In recent years, Mariano made a strategic decision to re-enter the Chicago market on his own terms, opening 13 upscale Mariano’s Fresh Markets.

Fast forward 11 years…Safeway is bleeding cash. The company lost $35.2 million in the first 36 weeks of 2013 and announced it will leave the highly competitive Chicago market by closing all 72 of its Dominick’s stores by 2014.

Cue Mariano. Roundy’s recently agreed to purchase 11 Dominick’s stores from Safeway for $36 million and will convert the stores to the Mariano’s banner.

"This acquisition is transformational in terms of Mariano's expansion plans in the Chicago metropolitan a…

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