Bob Mariano, CEO, Roundy's Inc.
Former Dominick's CEO opening more grocery stores here
Personal: Father of four children and one stepson. Lives in Inverness with wife Nina Mariano, who is community relations manager for Mariano's, handling marketing and other initiatives.
The first Mariano's opened in 2010, and the ninth is expected to open in Frankfort by spring. Four more stores are under construction, with another four in the planning stages. The company expects to open as many as 30 Mariano's in the Chicago area.
Mariano's aspiration for the new chain is to be "the Nordstrom of the grocery world." Part of that is instilling a high level of professionalism in his employees, he said, pointing to observations from a recent trip to Rome.
"Food people in this country are not perceived as professionals, where there, the seafood monger at the store has been there for generations," he said. "That's their life."
Grocery jobs in the U.S., by comparison, are seen as more transient work, often part time. While part-time workers will remain an important part of the Roundy's workforce, he said, the company wants "an employee who leaves an impression."
Although Mariano is only in Chicago a day or two a week — the rest of the time, he's in Milwaukee — he keeps an eye on his stores through friends and family. Daughter Jenny shops at the Roscoe Village location and lets him know if anything's amiss.
"I'll get a text: 'Daddy the strawberries are not ripe,' or something," he said, adding that he gets on the phone with employees right away. "I don't tell them how I know that, but my daughters think it's kind of humorous because while they're still in the store, there's this collection of people congregating around the strawberries."
Don Rosanova, executive vice president of operations at Roundy's, said Mariano has equally high standards for his management team.
"He'll let you know," Rosanova said of disappointing Mariano. "He'll have a frank and honest discussion about what were the expectations, what was the time limit, what happened, what got in our way."
Rosanova, like many Roundy's executives, worked with Mariano for many years at Dominick's. He said the boss is known for moving employees into a variety of jobs.
"He puts you in spots where you might not be the most comfortable but he feels you have the potential to grow," he said.
'Very much Italian'
Robert Mariano was born on Chicago's South Side to Robert and Dorothy Mariano, the first of five children. The family moved to the Northwest Side when Mariano was 5 years old because their home was being demolished to make way for an expressway.
In the large family, Mariano said he learned to wash clothes and clean the house at an early age, with daily and weekly chores that evolved as he got older. Family excursions included trips to Cock Robin for ice cream or trips to visit aunts and uncles.
"They used to be very animated pinochle and poker players," he said, calling it "very much Italian."
"That kind of environment allows you the opportunity to voice your thinking, have it challenged, played back to you — and it enriches your ability to think about things in different ways," he said.
Mariano's father was a salesman for Oscar Mayer who joined Dominick's in 1972. Working together in the corporate office for a few years brought some challenges.
"We were both terribly independent, very focused on excellence, and strong-willed and strong-minded, and we could disagree intently," Mariano said. "He and I could argue about what we wanted to argue about and then 10 minutes later we'd be hugging each other."
Mariano's first job, at age 15, was delivering papers for the Jefferson Park News Agency, which, at the time, was carrying at least five city dailies and two Polish newspapers. He took a job as a deli clerk at Dominick's in 1968, leaving about two years later for college at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
After pre-med biology studies as an undergraduate, Mariano said, he wasn't accepted to graduate schools. He tried teaching but realized he didn't have the patience. He thought about pharmaceutical sales but was rejected by more than a dozen companies.