ELMHURST – Cars circled the crowded Mariano's parking lot Tuesday morning for the grand opening, and even though inside was just as crowded, customers appeared more concerned about their next free sample than getting home quickly.
Debi Ryan was thankful to have the new grocer across the street from Deux Salon, 651 N. York, where she works.
"It's just amazing," she said. "Finally we've got something like this in town."
Elmhurst's Mariano's, 678 N. York St., is the first in DuPage County. With it, Mariano's brings 475 full and part time jobs to the area.
"What we often hear is it's not a chore here because there are so many fun things to do while you shop," said Dana Schueller, Mariano's senior marketing leader and director.
Here's a quick look at a few of Mariano's attractions.
Find yourself in need of refreshment while exploring the new grocer? Shoppers can stop by Squeez'd for freshly made-to-order fruit and vegetable smoothies. The smoothie bar greets customers when they walk in the front doors.
In the kitchen with Mariono's
The in-store culinary center is exclusive to Elmhurst's Mariano's. Customers can anticipate cooking demonstrations on seasonal recipes, as well as educational events on topics like healthy eating presented by both guest speakers and Mariano's own experts. The first event is scheduled for July 25. "Bourbon with Cheese" will be from 6-8 p.m. and costs $10. Those interested must register.
If your grocery list is beginning to look a little overwhelming, customers may want to pull their shopping cart over at the Vero cafe where Italian coffee and gelato await. Java junkies can order anything from straight espresso to a blended cookies-n-cream drink topped with whipped cream. Gelato flavors rotate daily.
Wood, stone fired pizzas
Don't have time to make dinner? Mariano's pizzas are quick-baked in a hot stone oven for thin, crisp crust and all sorts of cheeses, veggies and meats on top. They're ready to eat in the store. Every Thursday a pan pizza and a two liter Pepsi product are $10.
Customers can grab a full meal including one entree and two sides for just $6 or $10 depending on their entree choice. Prepared options include everything from barbecue ribs to meatloaf to fried chicken.
Foods from around the world fill two aisles that can be easily found by the series of flags waving from the ceiling. Kosher, British, Asian and Polish are just a few of the regional cuisines found down the aisles labled by origin.
Take a seat and enjoy a salad, soup or sandwich. If you're lucky a musician might be playing at Mariano's signature baby grand near the entrance. The high ceilings, cafe tables and floor to ceiling windows look more like a high rise atrium than a grocery store.
Oki Sushi bar
A Mariano's staple, the Oki Sushi bar sits near the floor to ceiling windows of the cafe area. Certified sushi chefs prepare a full menu of maki rolls to enjoy at the bar, or platters to take home.
After a recent competition in a floral fashion show, the Mariano's floral team decided to recreate a blooming beauty for the Elmhurst location's grand opening. Customers are invited to stop by and submit a name for the petal-covered mannequin.
Every product sold in the store is available for graduation parties, office meetings or any other occasion. Mariano's catering coordinator can help you plan for your event. Call the store or ask during your next visit to talk to the coordinator.
Customers may also want to check out the fresh squeezed orange juice, pesto corner and bakery filled with bread, bagels and sweets. In addition to the salad bar, Mariano's has an olive bar and trail mix bar. Customers can sign up for a loyalty card that qualifies them for special offers, or stop by the pharmacy with questions any time.
"So far, we love it," said Elmhurst resident Pamela Roemmich with a taste of Eli's cheesecake in hand. It was just one of dozens of samples available Tuesday.
Elmhurst's Mariano's is open seven days a week from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. An events calendar near the check out lists upcoming events that include everything from book signings, to make your own gelato sundae events.
Call Mariano's at 630-782-0017 for more information.