Mariano’s extra effort keeps customers safe and satisfied

By Daniel Patton

 

Mariano’s is devoting its legendary innovation to a customer wellness effort that goes beyond even today’s new standards for retail excellence. Besides introducing a dozen Safety Protocols, the store will soon begin delivering its signature events straight into shoppers’ homes.

Director of Strategic Brand Development Amanda Puck spent time on a recent afternoon to tell New Eastside News about the plan to keep quality and service at the levels that have helped Mariano’s become a New Eastside favorite.

 

What is Mariano’s doing to ensure the wellness of employees and customers?

Marianoi’s Take and Bake Pizzas

We’ve always taken the safety of our associates and customers very seriously, but in light of the pandemic, we have upped the measures and precautions. We have increased our cleaning schedule. We are coaching employees. We are working with customers and employees to maintain distancing guidelines. We are installing plexiglass barriers at check-out stands and floor decals that say please wait here so customers know where to stand… Every day there’s a new development because no one was obviously prepared for this anywhere. And the protocols may end up being permanent because we don’t know what the new normal is going to be. Mariano’s is very innovative in general as a retailer, and this is pushing us all to really deliver. It’s the way things have to be done.

 

What about your in-store classes events?

We are actually bringing that all online starting in April. We’re going to have wine-tastings, chef classes, and “Live at Mariano’s” with musical talent streaming performances and kids concerts.

 

How has the situation affected Mariano’s daily routine?

Hiring for us is the biggest challenge, because pickup and delivery are more in demand than they’ve ever been before, especially for seniors and people at home. We’re hiring at all stores to increase those operations. We’ve already hired 500 new associates, and we’re looking to hire 500 more. So if anyone’s interested, they can apply online now.

 

How have Mariano’s employees responded to the new safety protocols?

Our associates are the real heroes — well, obviously, in addition to the first responders handling medical emergencies. But the associates are totally ramping it up. They really feel like they are playing their parts in this whole crisis by helping people. Our staff comes in every day, every night, unloading trucks. We are there around the clock. We have overnight teams replenishing stores. The produce comes in very early morning and, by 6 a.m. the whole store is getting stocked. We’ve all had to make decisions and adapt very quickly. I’m lucky we’re such a close team.

 

Mariano’s Sushi

How are the customers dealing with the changes?

The customers have been unbelievably supportive! Of course, they’re concerned about food supply and wondering if they are going to get their groceries, and the answer is yes. But as a community we also have to realize that we can’t be hoarding. Mariano’s places limits on waters, bread, dairy, eggs, sanitizer, and toilet paper. We’re also expecting large shipments of toilet paper soon. This may change all of our lives forever and, in some ways, it’s humbling and gratifying to know that we can deliver what our customers need.

 

What do you intend to do when the stay-at-home order is lifted?

My husband and I miss our restaurant friends and community. We’ve been doing pickup. We just picked up from a place and the manager said I really miss you and come back as soon as you can.

 

In the meantime, what’s your favorite thing to eat from Mariano’s?

I love Mariano’s fried chicken. I think it’s the best. And I love our Poke Bowls, which are made-to-order. We just launched a new salmon teriyaki bowl and it’s healthy, fresh, and delicious.

Pinched on the River opens wine bar with dollar deal

by Doug Rapp

A local eatery is offering mid-week wine deals.

On Wednesdays, Pinched on the River, 443 E. Illinois St., is offering first glasses of wine for $1.

From 6 to 8 p.m. on hump days, customers can try a glass of red, white, rose or sparkling wine for a buck. The choices will be rotating varieties selected by staff, general manager Nasi Dimashi said. 

The wines will be offered upstairs at Pinched, where their coffee shop is located, but are also available downstairs at the main bar in the restaurant. 

Dimashi said the restaurant, which serves fast-casual eclectic Mediterranean food, started the deal in late January.

“People want to grab a quick drink,” Dimashi said. “We thought, why don’t we offer wine since we have so many delicious ones?” Customers aren’t obligated to eat but can grab a drink for a nice “mid-week break.”

“We want to bring some unique wines you don’t find daily yet they are delicious,” he said, noting that many came from countries not known for wine, such as Bulgaria and Slovenia.

Dimashi said his favorite is the Pullus pinot grigio from Slovenia, which is dry but looks like a rose since it’s fermented with the grape skins to give it a rosy shade.

“It’s a very interesting wine,” he said. 

The initial dollar wine night exceeded their expectations, Dimashi said. They thought a few people might stop by, but “the entire place filled up…which was a good problem to have,” he said.

The response from the neighborhood has been great, he said. “Overall the neighborhood has been very supportive. We’ve seen an increase in walk-in traffic.”

In addition to wine, Pinched offers cider and beer, both traditional and craft, including local breweries such as 312 and Two Brothers, which makes a special hazy IPA called Son of a Pinched exclusively for the restaurant. 

Happy hour at the main bar is 3 to 6 p.m. on weekdays. 

Pinched on the River, named because of the “pinch” of many flavors, Dimashi said, is the business’ second location. The original is in Lombard and owner Ranka Njegovan chose Streeterville when looking for restaurant space in the city.

“We wanted to be somewhere neighborhoody,” Dimashi said. “It’s a friendly environment, a family environment, and touristy with Navy Pier nearby…I love the neighborhood.”

House of Modern Luxury

Gentleman’s Cooperative a collection of services, activities in one downtown spot

by Mat Cohen

One of the most interesting spaces in Chicago combines style, confidence and luxury to create a haven in the middle of the city.

The Gentleman’s Cooperative, located at the penthouse of 111 W. Jackson Blvd., includes a barbershop, pool table, full bar, master tailoring, customized suits, a private cigar deck and corporate event space. 

Beginning with a pop-up shop, partners Mike Berntsen and Rich Moran have been offering luxurious services to local professionals for more than six years.

“We help to maximize our clients’ personal and business impact,” partner and director of business development Rich Moran said. “I think we do that very well.”

The space is across from the Chicago Board of Trade, making it easy to feel Chicago’s heartbeat through its windows.

“We are in such prime real estate,” Moran said. “We are constantly surrounded by the best executives in the state. It makes it easy for our clients to come in. Our location is everything.”

The Cooperative offers a barber and stylist membership, a master tailor and professional clothiers, as well as master barbers and stylists. Not to mention a luxurious event space to host corporate gatherings.

“Our clients work hard and we are big believers in taking time for yourself and taking a load off,” Moran said. “People work hard and people deserve to take care of themselves.”

Away from the hustle, tucked in his own quiet space, is master tailor Mousa Hazare. The room is draped with fabric, scattered with sewing machines and popping with all colors of the rainbow.

Hazare was born in Mongolia, moved to Pakistan when he was six years old and comes from a family of tailors, including his father and four brothers. He got his start at eight years old working for his dad’s shop in Pakistan. Seven years ago he moved to the U.S.. and after a year in San Diego, he came to Chicago.

Hazare, 33, is a key member of the Cooperative team and goes the extra mile for clients.

“I have the confidence they will get the things that they are really looking for,” he said. “My job is to make sure everything is perfect. If the manufacturers did something wrong I’m here to fix that. Most of the time they get the garments perfect, but sometimes there are some minor tweaks. And we want perfect.”

Hazare’s favorite part of the job is working with clients while taking measurements because he says that’s the easiest part of the process. However, he enjoys problem-solving and calls himself an ultimate problem solver.
To learn more about the space visit https://gentsco-op.com/ .

Stay ‘inn’ luxury this February with local hotels

by Stephanie Racine

Don’t have time to get away this winter? Take a staycation at one of Chicago’s best hotels. 

The Ivy Hotel, 233 E. Ontario in Streeterville, offers an at-home getaway for Chicagoans. The hotel has spacious and apartment-size rooms, with rainfall showers and deep-soaking tubs. The hotel is offering a special staycation deal for Illinois residents. With a state ID, rooms are 10% off for one night, plus a dessert of choice from the hotel’s restaurants. Options include Divine Lounge’s Carrot Cake or Cookie Sundae. With the discount, a studio queen starts at $98. For information, visit ivyhotelchicago.com.

The Park Hyatt has sumptuous food and spa experiences in February for downtowners looking for an escape. The Chef’s Counter Tasting Menu at The Park Hyatt restaurant NoMI is an exclusive and decadent experience. With just four seats at the counter, the chefs prepare an eight-course meal right in front of you. Menus change every 4-6 weeks and focus on one food group. The current focus is alliums—think garlic, shallots, onions and leeks. The offer is available for $145 per person on the reservation website Tock.

The Park Hyatt’s spa has a “tasting menu” of their own. Pick three spa treatments, each lasting 45 minutes, for a well-rounded relaxation experience. Options include facials, massages and body treatments. Pricing starts at $410 and treatments can be booked by calling the spa at (312) 239-4200.

Hotel Julian is offering romantic “Cultured and Cuffed” packages, during “cuffing season,” a slang term used for the colder months when love tends to bloom. Each package is based on a famous Chicago couple. The Barack and Michelle Obama package includes tickets to the Art Institute and an in-room champagne toast. Hotel Julian suggests their Smart TVs, using personal streaming accounts, to view “Southside with You,” the biographical film based on the couple’s early years. 

The Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone package is based on the Hollywood comedic pair, who met at a writing class in Chicago in 1998. The deal includes Second City tickets and pre-comedy show cocktails at Hotel Julian’s restaurant, ALK. To book one of the packages, email info@hoteljulianchicago.com

The Loews Chicago Hotel staycation offer is for the whole family. The hotel encourages visitors to “get snowed ‘inn’” with them. The package includes valet parking, 20% off restaurant and room service and two free cocktails. For the kids, enjoy one free movie rental (up to $19.99), hot cocoa, a decorate-your-own cookie set created by Loews’ pastry chef and a kid’s pop up tent and “campfire.” Book between Feb. 7-12 and the package will include two free tickets per family for the Centennial Wheel at Navy Pier. Visit loewshotels.com/chicago-downtown. 

A cookie on a milkshake: JoJo’s Milk Bar to expand

by Stephanie Racine

When it’s hard to decide between desserts, JoJo’s can save the day. Have your cookie and eat it too—on top of a delicious milkshake.

JoJo’s Milk Bar, which has been making waves in the dessert bar scene with intricate and decadent offerings, opened in River North in February 2019 and recently expanded to a milkshake kiosk in Streeterville.

JoJo’s Shake Bar is on the second  floor Mezzanine of Water Tower Place, near kid-friendly shops such as American Girl, The LEGO Store and The Art Of Dr. Seuss. 

JoJo’s will be partnering with Unicorn World By Lola + The Boys, another nearby kids store,  to offer the Unicorn Shake, a blueberry cherry shake, topped with items like cotton candy, a  sprinkle-dipped cone and candy Do Do’s. 

Co-founder Robbie Schloss is excited to bring JoJo’s to Water Tower and hopes customers will  take part in the “grander-than- life” experience. The “enhanced  retro diner” was inspired by Schloss’s childhood and named for his daughter.

 Unlike its River North location, which serves food and alcohol, JoJo’s Shake Bar focuses on  sweeter fare. Menu items include the Chocolate Nirvana, a shake with Oreos, and the BIGGIE Salted Caramel hot chocolate. The site offers infused milks and assorted freshly baked cookies—  if you prefer them separate from the milkshake.

JoJo’s Milk Bar in River North is also adding some new options.

“JoJo’s will also embark on a  new partnership with Chica- go-based manufacturer of organic Cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD  products, Half Day CBD, for adult diners interested in adding  CBD oil or gummies to milk- shakes, cocktails, hot chocolate  drinks and  oats,” according to a news release.

JoJo’s Shake Bar is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Sunday.  For more information, visit jojosmilkbar.com.  

Cooper’s Hawk opens first urban location

by Doug Rapp

An upscale wine and dining chain that started in the suburbs has come to downtown Chicago in time for the holidays.

Cooper’s Hawk, which has 41 locations nationwide, recently opened its first urban location at 58 E. Oak Street, in the Gold Coast’s historic Esquire building.

“The Esquire space presented the perfect location and footprint to serve as the flagship restaurant (in Chicago),” Executive Chef Matt McMillin said.

The renovation of the space took nearly 10 months, according to publicist Laurie Cairns.

“Incorporating our Napa-inspired look was a fun challenge,”  she said.

The large, multi-floor restaurant and winery covers 23,000 square feet. It can accommodate more than 400 people, with a patio and private event space.

They offer a standard menu plus an Esquire signature page featuring upscale dishes, such as pistachio-crusted Australian rack of lamb, 25-ounce prime, bone-in ribeye and miso-glazed Chilean seabass, McMillin said. He’s excited about the “Tribute to the World of  Wine” signature five-course pairing dinner he curated with master sommelier Emily Wines.

The new Chicago location is the first Cooper’s Hawk to offer wines outside their normal portfolio,  Cairns said. It has 1,600 collections from around the world,  including 750 bottles from the personal collection of founder and CEO Tim McEnery.

In addition to the “immersive” experience of fine wine and  dining, Cairns said Cooper’s Hawk offers Wine Club memberships, featuring new wines each month, available for pickup or shipping.

 “(The wine club) is a great introduction for anyone curious about wine, as Cooper’s Hawk  is all about making wine accessible to everyone,” Wines, the  sommelier, said. “We have over 50 varietals, ranging from sweet wines to big robust reds, and everything in between.”

Cairns said they also have holiday-etched bottles, wine ornaments and a 12 Nights of Christmas gift box, which includes a variety of wines.

“We trust Chicago will embrace what we have created at Cooper’s Hawk Esquire Chicago and look forward to how it evolves over the years,” McMillin said.  

Going green with Circuit ridesharing

By Stephanie Racine

With Mayor Lightfoot’s new proposal on taxing solo rideshares, Circuit is a new viable option.

Circuit is a free and green rideshare company that made their debut in Chicago over the summer. New Eastside is a popular stop. The cars resemble shuttles, with each of the six passengers having their own door. The vehicles are fully electric and are hailed just like other rideshare companies, by using an app. Circuit has almost completed its pilot period in downtown Chicago and is winding down in November, but the company has no plans to leave.

“By no means do we want to leave Chicago. We’d love to be there full time,” said Circuit Co-Founder Alexander Esposito.

Circuit is looking for new ad partners for Chicago, but ideally they’d like to operate in Chicago by working with the city itself.

“We’re hoping to secure a longer-term service agreement with the City, local transit agencies or another local organization,” said Esposito.

In San Diego, there are 22 Circuit cars in operation with around 21,000 rides a month. Chicago’s ridesharing numbers are much larger than that, with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning reporting 286,000 rideshare rides per day. 

Esposito said they want to help with downtown congestion by making Circuit easily accessible at parking garages. They also want to help promote public transportation use.

“If more people could get a ride to the train, I think more people would use public transportation,” Esposito said.

According to Co-Founder James Mirras, there was a trend of Circuit customers using the app to get to and from the Washington/Wells CTA station.

“I was visiting family in the suburbs and used Circuit to get from the Metra to an appointment I had,” said Ana Ayrempour.

Ayrempour was surprised at how smooth the process was, especially with it being a free service.

“It was a quick pickup and the driver was nice,” said Ayrempour.  

Circuit employs drivers full-time and wants to focus on having local people driving their cars. Esposito thinks this helps bring a more comfortable feel to the experience.

“I’ve seen a driver taking time to teach an older woman how to use the app,” Esposito said.

Circuit was started by Esposito and his partner, James Mirras, as a beach shuttle in the Hamptons in New York, and was originally called The Free Ride. Now, Circuit has grown in different cities—both big and small. South Florida, Texas, California, and the Jersey Shore currently have Circuit.

For more information and to download the app, visit thefreeride.com

Christkindlmarket brings German Christmas to Chicago

By Elisa Shoenberger

Entering its 24th year, the Christkindlmarket brings a bit of German Christmas to Chicago. Debuting in Pioneer Court in 1996, the market grew to three markets in 2019, expanding to locations in Daley Plaza, Wrigleyville and Milwaukee, Wisc.

The German American Chamber of Commerce (GACC) founded the market for business and cultural reasons. They wanted an opportunity to provide small businesses in Germany with a place to feature their products before deciding to invest in the U.S., explains Maren Priebe, CEO of German American Events, a subsidiary of the GACC.

But it wasn’t just about commerce. Christkindlmarkets are popular across Germany and the rest of the European Union. The tradition of Christkindlmarkets grew out of medieval markets going back to the 14th century, said Kate Bleeker, Director of the German American Events. Annual holiday markets began to evolve into social occasions where families and entire communities came together.  

The Chicago market was modeled after the Nuremberg market, reflected by the red and white huts.

The market was a bit of a risky venture given Chicago’s snowy winters, Priebe said. But the risk paid off in the first year when 300,000 people showed up to enjoy the market with 13 vendors in Pioneer Court. The following year, Mayor Richard M. Daley’s office invited them to Daley Plaza, where the market has been since.

The Christkindlmarket “has become a centerpiece of the city’s holiday celebration for locals and tourists,” Priebe said. The central location of the market, close to transportation, hotels, and the business district, and free admission have helped the market grow.

In 2014, the market expanded to Wrigleyville and in 2018 Christkindlmarket opened in Milwaukee. GACC has consulted with other fairs across the country but as far as they know they are the most traditional of the Christkindlmarkets in the US.

Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate and Wacky Wonderworks are two new vendors in this year’s market. Based in Downers Grove, Wacky Wonderworks sells 3D wooden puzzles, such as Tyrannosaurus Rex or Pegasus, that do not require additional tools. Bob’s Belgian Hot Chocolate will sell his hot chocolate, made from combining Belgium dark and milk chocolate, as well as other chocolate products. 

For many, collecting the Christkindlmarket cup is a long tradition. Priebe said the new Christkindlmarket cup will be unveiled Nov. 4. 

The Milwaukee and Daley Plaza markets are open from Nov. 15 to Dec . 24  and the Wrigleyville market is open Nov. 22 to Dec. 31.

PureCircle Ice Cream trucks bring late summer flavors to Chicago

By Angela Gagnon

Staff Writer

PureCircle, the leading producer of stevia sweeteners for the global food and beverage industry, is distributing its new gourmet ice cream in Lakeshore East Park. 

Food trucks will be parked near The Tides from 2-4 p.m. and by The Streeter Apartments in Streeterville from noon-2 p.m. every Saturday through October.

Based in Chicago, PureCircle is known for its natural-origin, zero-calorie sweetener made from stevia plants. The ice cream, which launched in August, features the next generation non-GMO stevia leaf sweeteners and is intended to show consumers how this sweetener tastes great and offers a healthier alternative to high calorie foods and beverages. 

“We’re looking to raise awareness about stevia and what it is as a natural plant that has zero calories and is non GMO,” said PureCircle’s Global Marketing Manager and Streeterville resident Dan Kubiak.

New Eastside resident Morgan Vawter stopped by the truck on a sunny day in September to stock up on her favorite flavors of PureCircle ice cream. 

“It is the best low sugar ice cream I’ve ever had,” she said. “And I’m keto, and it’s keto-friendly which is really special.” 

PureCircle Ice Cream comes in five flavors: vanilla, chocolate, salted caramel, coffee and Rabanaberry, a vegan fruit-flavored dessert with raspberry, banana and blueberry.

“Ice cream has been our opportunity to have people experience the best kind of stevia products that we produce,” said New Eastside resident Alina Slotnik, PureCircle’s Vice President of Global Marketing.

“Our next phase is engaging companies and encouraging them to create next generation products with stevia,” Slotnik said.

In connection with the ice cream launch, PureCircle has partnered with the Illinois chapter of Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), which funds research, advocates for government action and provides support to fight Type 1 Diabetes. 

“JDRF understands the challenges and limitations of finding really delicious, but healthy and safe products for people with diabetes,” Slotnik said. “They were excited to bring this product to their audience and help educate them about stevia and show that it’s a safe sweetener.”

JDRF will have PureCircle ice cream samples and products as well as coupons and promotional materials at its One Walk Events this fall. PureCircle will also be the official dessert sponsor of JDRF’s One Dream Gala in Chicago at the end of the year. 

For more information, visit purecircleicecream.com.

Don’t leave home without it, the best back to school buys

(Published Aug. 31, 2019)

By Stephanie Racine, Staff Writer

Fall is upon us, which means a fresh start on the schoolyear and brand new items to purchase. Be prepared for back-to-school with these useful for parents and fun for kids trends!  

Home Sweet Locker

Decorating lockers has always been a way to showcase personality while at school, but options have been upgraded since the days of magnets and magazine clips. Target has options such as magnetic succulent plants, magnetic and battery-powered “chandeliers,” and removable wallpaper. Specifically, check out UBrand at Target, which has all the previous options, plus more, like a disco ball!

Fashion is Clear

A trend for all ages, that’s also helpful for parents. A clear plastic raincoat is cheap, easy to clean, and also fashionable for a kid of any age. Currently, there’s one available at Walmart online for $10. Clear backpacks are also cool, and won’t require parents to ask if their kid forgot anything on their way out—it’s easy to see inside!

A Bento-Style Lunch

Bento Boxes are no longer just for mom or dad’s sushi lunch. The omieBox, available on Amazon, has spaces for both cold and hot foods. It comes with different inserts, depending on what’s for lunch that day, and can include cutlery. Everything in the box can be put in the dishwasher, to make daily cleanup easy. There are simpler versions, like the stainless steel LunchBots containers on Amazon.

Eraser Fun

Put a smile on their face with fun erasers in all sorts of shapes. Yoobi’s fast food eraser set, available at Urban Outfitters, includes a mini hamburger, hotdog, French fry, and sandwich all for erasing. Acbell’s erasers are in the shape of macaron cookies and brightly colored. Handy Basic’s erasers are ice cream treats. Both are available on Amazon.  

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