Barbecue joint Pork & Mindy’s plans to open mini restaurants inside 28 Chicago-area Mariano’s this year, a huge expansion for the local sandwich shop and a new kind of partnership for the grocery chain.
Pork & Mindy’s, which launched its first restaurant in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood in 2016, will open this week at the store in Bronzeville and next week at Mariano’s Park Ridge store. The rest of its outposts will open in phases throughout the year.
Co-founded by Jeff Mauro, host of The Food Network’s “Sandwich King” and co-host of “The Kitchen,” the pig-focused eatery currently has six locations in Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis.
Mauro said he is eager to bring his smoked meats to new audiences, while Mariano’s will find new customers in the celebrity chef’s fan base.
“It is very mutually beneficial,” Mariano’s spokeswoman Amanda Puck said. “We are about the experiences in general, and this just brings it to the next level.”
Mariano’s, which has 44 locations in the Chicago area, already features stalls serving up gelato and wood-fired pizza and operates sit-down sushi bars, a “groceraunt” model that encourages customers to stay and eat as well as shop. But “this is the first time we are opening a restaurant-style concept within the store,” Puck said.
Pork & Mindy’s will operate in a 200-square-foot branded space near the front of each store, where it will staff a counter serving a half dozen of its signature “sangwiches” and other menu items such as “tottys,” which are tater tots piled with meats and garnishes. It will also feature a case of grab-and-go hot foods exclusive to Mariano’s, including bacon-wrapped spare ribs, smoked honey mustard meatloaf and Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken.
The “creative BBQ” concept started when Mauro, fresh from winning Season 7 of “Food Network Star,” was contacted by an old friend, Kevin Corsello, who had run in the same Italian-American circles when they were growing up in Chicago and the suburbs. Corsello, a recent graduate of Harvard Business School, had an idea for a fast-casual barbecue spot, and over a bottle of tequila the business was born, he said.
Puck declined to provide details of the partnership’s financial arrangement. The two brands have worked together since 2015, when Mariano’s became the first grocer to carry Pork & Mindy’s bottled sauces.
“We had great synergy with their team from the get-go, Puck said. “We have a strong commitment to local vendors so it really just made sense.”
Mariano’s has discussed similar partnerships with other local companies but currently is focused on the Pork & Mindy’s openings, she said.
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