By Lorrie Baumann
With just three tables inside the 900 square foot store and a few more out on the sidewalk outside when weather permits, Marché has become a gathering place for local residents who make it a place to meet during lunch breaks or a stop for a glass of wine and a cheese plate while they’re on their round of the nearby shops in Glen Ellyn’s historic downtown. “We definitely have customers for whom this is their spot,” says Founder Jill Foucré, who opened the store in November, 2015, as an offshoot of Marcel’s Culinary Experience, the kitchenware store two doors down the block that she opened in 2011.
In the cheese cases that took the place of clothing racks after Foucré bought the former clothing store and gutted it to make her specialty cheese shop, Marché regularly offers about 100 cheeses. About half of them are imported, but for the domestic half of the selection, General Manager Daniel Sirko emphasizes the world-class cheeses made in Illinois’ neighboring states. He’s made his entire career in the specialty food business, opening Pastoral, Chicago’s iconic cheese and charcuterie shop, and then moving on to operating in a couple of foodservice establishments before he got a phone call from Foucré, who asked him to come and help her open a cheese shop in Glen Ellyn. “We seek out farmstead artisan cheeses when we can,” he says. “If there’s a cheddar from California or Wisconsin, we’re more likely to go with the Wisconsin cheese.” About half the cheeses in the case belong to a core that Sirko keeps in stock year-round, while the remainder are more seasonal.
The store’s single best seller, though, does come from California. It’s Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog. “It’s so recognizable, and so delicious,” Sirko says. The store also offers a range of Manchego cheeses, and those are very popular, as are triple cremes and a house-made pimento cheese. During the summertime, Marché makes its own mozzarella from curd purchased from a New Jersey dairy.
The cheese selection is augmented by a selection of artisanal charcuterie, olives and tapenades, locally made chocolates and breadsticks and a selection of small-production wines that can’t be found in the town’s specialty wine shop. The shop pours seven or eight by the glass and offers a free tasting every Tuesday in a pairing with a complementary cheese. “The popularity of the wine selection has been a happy surprise,” Foucré says. “We sell a lot of wine.”
Marché’s proximity to Marcel’s, a store that already had a loyal following, meant that Marché had interested customers from the day it opened. There’s still some overlap of the two stores’ customer bases, but each also has its own community within the commuter suburb with a population of about 27,000 relatively affluent residents about 45 minutes west of downtown Chicago. It’s conveniently close to the Metra train line that offers a simple connection to the city for the population of young homeowners drawn to Glen Ellyn by its location in DuPage County rather than Chicago’s Cook County. DuPage County offers good schools, while Glen Ellyn boasts upscale neighborhoods of very community-oriented residents. “People grow up here. They leave. They come back,” Foucré says.
That’s been good for Marcel’s, Marché and other downtown small businesses because it’s also a population that’s supportive of local small businesses, Foucré says. “People get that if they don’t shop here, if they send their dollars online, we won’t be here,” she says. The small business community, in turn, supports the Alliance of Downtown Glen Ellyn and the city’s Chamber of Commerce, which are very active in promoting concerts in the park, art festivals and other special events that bring visitors from around Chicago’s metropolitan area as well as local residents out to enjoy the small town ambiance while they patronize the antique shops, book store, clothing boutique and small cafes as well as Marcel’s and Marché.
Marché itself draws two kinds of typical customers, although these come in all ages. There are those who come to buy cheese out of the case to take it home and cook with it or to make a cheese board for their entertaining and those who’ve made the store the gathering place where they meet their friends. “That customer wants us to have more tables and sees us as a quasi-restaurant/cafe,” Foucré says. Both of these kinds of customers rely on Marché to offer them catered cheese boards. These come in four different sizes, serving from five or six up to 40 to 50. They’re served on cherry wood boards that come back to the store when the cheeses and accompaniments have been consumed. “They’re 100 percent complete when you get them,” Foucré says. “People get them for their book club or for the dinner party they’re having.”
Those who are choosing their own cheeses can count on the assistance of Marché’s seven employees, each of whom is very knowledgeable about the store’s wares. During fall, winter and spring, the shop also offers evening classes, and Marché and Marcel’s encourage their respective customers to get to know more about the sister shop by hosting the occasional joint class with a cooking lesson that incorporates cheese and perhaps a wine pairing.
The class schedule is suspended in summertime, when Marché offers extended hours, and there isn’t room in the shop for simultaneous classes and regular retail service. Those extended hours are critical to customers who stop in at the shop to pick up their picnic baskets on their way to an evening concert in the park, either in Glen Ellyn itself or a train ride away in Chicago. The Metra line serving Glen Ellyn cooperates by allowing riders to enjoy their picnic and bottle of wine on the train. “We’re looking to make the on-the-go part accessible for people,” Foucré says. “”So many people take the train…. People have really embraced that.”
She adds, “There will be events throughout the summer that it will be nice to take a picnic box to – and a bottle of wine.”
By Lorrie Baumann
When Larry Ehlers started working at his local grocery store in Brown Deer, Wisconsin after his return from World War II, it was the kind of neighborhood grocery that sold everything that the neighborhood families really needed from day to day in about 3,000 square feet of selling space. Then times changed, local roads gave way to superhighways, the small village of Brown Deer became a suburb of Milwaukee, and big box stores entered into the grocery marketplace.
Larry’s Market changed with the times by evolving into a specialty grocer. Its produce and meat departments have been eliminated in favor of prepared foods that cater to the lunchtime needs of the workers employed in the nearby office buildings, a highly regarded specialty cheese market makes the store a destination for tourists looking for the best of Wisconsin cheeses, and a busy catering department now provides more than half the store’s revenue.
“It’s an old, old grocery store, but it’s a charming building,” said Patty Peterson, the Manager of Larry’s Market and the daughter of Larry himself. “We’re not on the highway. We’re on the byway…. We don’t have a thousand people walking in front of our store each day.”
After his return from the war, Larry Ehlers worked for the store for years before he finally bought it in 1970. His son, Steve Ehlers, bought the store from him in the late 1980s, and Steve’s wife became the owner upon Steve’s death in 2016.
Around 1971, Peterson’s parents had become fans of French cheeses after their introduction to them at a Summer Fancy Food Show. After tasting some of those cheeses at the show, Larry placed an order. A few days after the cheese was delivered to the store, it was gone, sold to upscale customers who’d learned to appreciate traditional French cheeses during their travels overseas. Larry continued ordering. “Of course my father is the consummate salesman. He can still sell like nobody’s business,” Peterson said. “He still comes in three days a week.”
Steve carried on that romance with French cheeses as he traveled in Europe in the 1970s for his own version of the Grand Tour once made by Victorian gentlemen to broaden their horizons as they started out on their lives as independent adults. “He loved France,” Peterson said.
Steve and his father decided to start carrying artisanal American cheeses in the store after Mike Gingrich of Uplands Cheese won the American Cheese Society’s Best of Show Award for Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and today, the cheese counter with its 200 to 300 cheeses in it is a destination for travelers who come to Larry’s Market just to buy their cheese.
Most of the business rung up by the store’s 15 full and regular part-time employees, though, comes either at lunchtime or through the store’s catering business. The regular Friday grill-out events are also huge draws that bring 250 to 300 people into the store over the course of a couple of hours.
All told, the deli and catering departments represent about 60 to 70 percent of the business today. “We do a lot of corporate catering, so on any given day, we’ll have five people out delivering, and we can do 400 to 500 people for lunch, just catering,” Peterson said.
The typical lunchtime purchase for the 100 to 150 people who usually come in then is about $12 to $15, although customers will frequently spend $40 to $50 at a time if they’re also buying groceries and cheese. Among the most popular offerings are killer brownies, Wisconsin artisan cheeses and fresh soups, including the turkey chili that’s a particular favorite among Larry’s regulars. “We sell a ton of soup, summer and winter,” Peterson said. “Our local health inspector comes in for lunch quite often.”
By Lorrie Baumann
As both a retailer and a wholesale meat processor, Rastelli Foods Group is in prime position to observe how the American grocery landscape is evolving. Rastelli Foods Group supplies meat in the wholesale market to grocers and meal kit delivery services up and down the East Coast of the U.S., provides meat for U.S. military installations overseas, ships directly to consumers across the U.S. and operates two New Jersey specialty grocery stores, a 6,000-square foot store originally opened in Deptford as Rastelli’s Meat Stop and then remodeled and reopened five years ago as Rastelli Market Fresh and a new 40,000 square-foot specialty grocer in Marlton.
Ray Rastelli, III is the company’s Vice President and son of the Founder who started Rastelli Meat Stop about 40 years ago and grew it into one of the premier meat suppliers on the East Coast. His father, also Ray Rastelli, is still very active in the business and likely to be recognized by the QVC shoppers who see him pitching fresh and frozen meats four to six times a week on their televisions. The QVC sales are part of a direct-to-consumer mail-order operation that delivers 50,000 to 60,000 packages, mainly fresh and frozen meat and seafood products, both to those QVC shoppers and to customers who come directly to the company’s website. “We started our e-commerce platform in 2009,” Rastelli says. “For the first few years, we sold a few thousand packages a month. Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen a significant, significant increase.”
From this vantage point, Ray Rastelli, 33, is seeing a trend that’s corroborated by marketing researchers. U.S. government figures document that about half of Americans’ food dollars are now spend on food prepared in restaurants, and even when Americans eat at home, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing the same kind of cooking that their grandmothers did. “The biggest thing I see that’s really changing in the past two years is the evolution of the at-home delivery companies,” Rastelli said.
“Some of the retailers we work with are trying to come out with their own version of that – meal kits right at the front of the store. Those companies are definitely taking market share.” According to market research firm Packaged Facts, there are now more than 150 meal delivery kit services operating in the U.S. and over the past few years, these businesses have raised more than $650 million in venture capital. Most of these meal kit delivery services are targeting young professionals and families with children who live in urban areas.
Americans between the ages of 25 and 55 are increasingly comfortable ordering their food online, and and cooking it at home, often in the form of meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. Women now spend less than an hour a day on food preparation and cleanup, while men still spend an average of less than half an hour a day working in the kitchen, according to 2015 statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor.
Rastelli says his company’s online customers tend to be foodies who care about the quality of the food they’re getting. “They’re definitely people who are really engaged in food, not people who are just looking to put something on the plate,” he said.
He says they’re increasingly likely to see organic and all-natural foods as healthier options. “Five years ago, organic and all-natural would be one one hundredth of the business,” he said. “These days, it’s between 30 to 45 percent of the product we manufacture.”
Rastelli, who started work sweeping floors in his father’s business when he was 10 years old, then became a regular employee on the night shift while he was a sophomore in high school, now sees these trends playing out in the company’s two retail stores. The original Rastelli Market Fresh was converted from a 6,000-foot Rastelli’s Meat Stop store five years ago. Designed as a kind of hybrid between Whole Foods and the previous store, but with a lot of prepared options, the business at the new store inspired the company to expand with a second, bigger location in Marlton, New Jersey, about a half-hour drive from Philadelphia.
The new Rastelli Market Fresh is more of a prepared food store with a pantry of specialty items than a full-service grocer, with almost half of its business professional customers stopping in to eat in the store rather than purchase a basket of food to take home and cook. The store includes several made-to-order restaurant-type concepts – there’s no hot-line buffet – including a pizza stand, sushi restaurant, a taqueria and a Craftwich sandwich shop. Customers order from any of the concepts and the store’s deli counter from a self-service kiosk that prints out a ticket for the customer, who waits only about 2-1/2 to 3 minutes for a meal that’s made from scratch. “It’s set the world on fire in that area,” Rastelli said. “It’s been beyond our expectations.”
Of the 20,000 customers a week who come through the store and check out with an average $38 purchase, fully 9,000 to 10,000 of them came to eat at the 150-seat cafe/lounge or to pick up a single meal to take home with them. According to research reported by the Washington Post in 2015, less than 60 percent of suppers served at home in 2014 were actually cooked at home, and although that trend stalled a bit during the recession, Americans began picking up takeout again as the economy improved.
The single most popular concept in the Marlton Rastelli Market Fresh store is a create-a-plate offering in which customers select a protein from several choices that might include a chicken breast, a filet mignon, a grilled salmon portion and a lamb chop and then add two sides from a menu of 10 selections to put together a total customized meal priced at $8.99. The concept has lines of customers waiting every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Rastelli said. “We package it up for them and off they go.”
The retail stores also act as a product development lab for products offered by the company’s online and wholesale operations.
For instance, recipes for pre-marinated steaks and chicken breasts, which are extremely popular items, are pilot-tested in the retail stores, where Rastelli and other family members will spend time on the weekends talking to customers about whether they like what they’re eating. If not, the recipe goes back for more work until there’s general agreement that the company has a really good product before it’s mass-marketed to Rastelli’s online customers and to other grocery retailers. “We’re finding that grocery stores are just shifting to what people are looking for. “People still have to eat,” Rastelli said. “We try to cater to business professionals who are in a jam and trying to get dinner for their families because they worked late.”