Chris Barber describes The Grand Food Center, which he owns with partners Dan Klebba and Kevin Salus as “old school.” But it’s the store’s old school customer service that has kept the grocery, with locations in Glencoe and Winnetka, in business for 30 years.
“We have customers for life,” Barber, told DailyNorthShore.com.
The business partners got their first taste of the grocery industry in the early 1980’s, when they worked as baggers and stock boys at Dee Jay Foods in Glencoe. That experience instilled in the men the value of customer service, at time when they were expected to load and unload customer’s grocery carts and help shop for groceries.
“We’ve always had that customer service mentality and that is why we are great partners,” Barber said.
Klebba later went onto purchase Dee Jay Foods in 1987, which is now the Grand Food Center in Glencoe. The partners attribute their success in a competitive market — Mariano’s opened nearby in 2014 in the former Dominick’s storefront in Northfield — by their focus on customer service.
“We feel that we are the last of a dying breed — like the full service gas station, we are the face of your grocer and we’ll go that extra mile to give customers the service and convenience that they might not expect,” Barber said.
Indeed, few grocery stores offer some of the unique services that can be found at The Grand. For instance, the store offers home delivery, and free delivery for three months to families who have just had a baby. It also has a newcomer’s club, where an owner of manager delivers a basket of signature items to new residents who move to Glencoe or Winnetka.
Each department has something unique to offer as well. All of its meats are hand trimmed by experienced butchers. Marlene, known as the “Cheese Lady,” is renowned for her vast knowledge of cheese, as well as spot-on advice for pairings or creating a themed cheese plate. The floral department is almost a like an independent floral shop, that boasts certified designers who create stunning arrangements.
Many North Shore residents also enjoy a special relationship with The Grand.
In the midst of flu season, Barber recalled a customer requesting the store’s tomato basil soup for a sick child. The soup was sold out, but Barber called the chef and asked for a fresh batch of soup to be made early the next morning. “That’s the kind of store we are,” Barber said.
Responding to unusual requests from customers is par for the course at The Grand. Annelise Blom recalled her daughter’s Harry Potter themed eleventh birthday party. “I needed a cart ‘to push through the wall’ at platform 9 3/4. So I went to The Grand with my unusual request. At first the guy that helped me looked very confused, but after I explained and promised to return it the next day, they were happy to let me borrow a cart and help load it into my car! It made the party so much more special!!” Blom said.
The Grand is able to offer such great service because of its employees, according Barber. Many employees have been with the store from 20 to 30 years, and stay with The Grand because of its personal touch. For instance, one of the owners makes sure to be there on an employee’s first day of work, taking the time to say hello. “Our store’s motto is our family serving your family, and we consider all of our employees family,” Barber said.
The business partners are also mindful of The Grand’s role in the larger community. The store partners with Glencoe Family Services, provides funds to needy families who require food assistance, and offers Funds For Schools, a program that gives a portion of money spent at the store back to local schools.
As The Grand marks its 30th year in business, they continue to keep the store’s fresh and updated. The Winnetka location was fully renovated about two years ago, and the meat, deli and seafood department at the Glencoe store just received a re-fresh.
“The market has changed but the niche that we fill has as never been more important than it is now,” Barber said.