Marohn’s Marketplace Inc.

Breaking the big-box mold for 47 years
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

Since 1967, the Marohn family has built a network of grocery stores that offer something above and beyond big-box chains. As owners of Marohn’s Marketplace Inc. (Marohn’s Market), in Annandale, St. Michael and Cokato, Minn., and a Cub Foods store in Buffalo, Minn., the family-owned grocery stores have come a long way over the course of the last 47 years.

The company’s three-generation-strong story begins with Marvin Marohn, founder and president of Marohn’s Market. Upon graduating from the University of Minnesota, Marvin joined the Marine Corps. “My mother noticed an article in the paper on the Marines and I decided to go for it,” recalls Marvin. “I served two years of active duty and was in the reserves for six.”

When Marvin came back from his last tour of duty, he ended up back in his hometown in Annandale and found himself asking what was next. “My father was in the produce business,” shares Marvin. “Back then, that meant eggs and poultry, in fact, this area was producing most of the eggs for the entire country.”

Marvin was going to help take over his father’s business, but the farming industry was clearly changing. “The industry was getting more commercialized,” he recalls. “A small farmer with 300 to 400 laying hens was going to be left out in the dark and that’s what our business was based on so I knew it was time to make a switch.”

Bold move

A Jack and Jill store on Main Street in Annandale caught Marvin’s eye and he decided he was interested in fixing it up. “I talked the owner into selling it to me,” he recounts. “I wanted to switch the store back to a Red Owl because that’s what it was when I was growing up. Red Owls were a big deal back in those days.”

Before Marvin could secure the retail property, he was paid a visit by an unsuspected character, a Mr. Shorty Finch. “Mr. Finch was one of the originators of Nash-Finch Company, which today, is a Fortune 500 food distribution company,” reveals Marvin. “I remember it like it was yesterday. He pulled up in his big black Cadillac and he told me he had the first rights to the property and I wasn’t going to stand a chance at buying it.”

Marvin wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I said, ‘OK, fine, I’ll just build a store,’ to Mr. Finch,” continues Marvin. “He turned and walked back to his big black Cadillac and said, ‘You build a store and we’ll burry you.’”

While those words are enough to drive most people far-far away, Marvin processed with his plan, purchasing a plot of land about a half block from Main Street. “I borrowed $17,000 from my father – the only time I’ve ever borrowed money - and started Marv’s Red Owl as an independently owned franchise,” he recalls.

Marvin hired the contractor who built his family home to build the 5,000-square-foot Marv’s Red Owl and the crew worked around-the-clock, even on Sundays to complete the project. Before long the store doubled in size to 10,000 square feet. “There were two other stores in town when we started and they didn’t last long,” adds Marvin.

Marohn’s today

Today, with four stores and nearly 600 employees, Marohn’s Market continues to break the mold, unafraid to be different from the big-box chains and corporate giants. “We’re a community-oriented independent grocery chain,” explains Bob Marohn, second-generation vice president of Marohn’s Market. “Sure, the big stores like Target and Walmart have moved into this area, but they can’t compete with our perishables and level of service.”

Since the company’s inception, Marohn’s Market has gained ground throughout southern Minnesota, making a name for superior service and products. “The establishment of our Cub Foods store, which is a subsidiary of SuperValu, was a major milestone for us,” shares Bob. “We had the volume and the marketplace so it made sense to build a new store and capitalize with the Cub Foods brand. Cub Foods is magic in Minnesota, the stores tend to do really well.”

Marohn’s Market has also recently performed major renovations to the company’s Cokato store. “We redecorated the complete interior with new signage and layout,” details Bob. “We also have solar panels on the roof and there aren’t too many people in this area doing that.”

Marohn’s Market has expanded into more organic offerings and Minnesota-grown produce and also boasts a sizable in-house bakery in every store. “My daughter, Julie, has also joined us and she is a registered dietician,” reveals Marvin. “She offers cooking classes and ways for families to find ingredients and prepare healthy meals.”

At 83 years old, Marvin has far surpassed retirement and while the ownership has transferred to Bob and Julie, he says he keeps coming in everyday because he likes to stay busy. “I lost my wife a little over a year ago so I come to work to stay busy and be with the family,” he reveals.

There aren’t too many owners with the same dedication as Marvin and even after 47 years he puts the stores first. Since the beginning, Marohn’s Marketplace Inc. has been unafraid to break out of the big-box store mold, offering exceptional customer service and a family-centered approach.

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