A grocery store will be opening soon in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward.
Go Grocer MKE is set to open Jan. 18 at 415 E. Menomonee St., on the ground floor of the Gaslight Lofts building. The 1,985-square-foot storefront will be the 15th location for Chicago-based Go Grocer, and its first location to open in Wisconsin.
The company's small-format, "boutique" grocery stores - largely located in and around downtown Chicago - carry a wide selection of national brands, locally sourced products and freshly made grab-and-go items - curated for consumers living and working in the surrounding neighborhood.
"We really work off what the people want," said Johnny Rivera who co-owns the Third Ward store with his brother Edgar Rivera. "I did a lot of scouting for different locations, and I thought this community was one that was underserved for grocery goods and fine spirts, wine, etc. ... We're able to have 2,000-3,000 SKUs in our store, with products and goods that we think our residents need."
Convenience is at the heart of Go Grocer's value proposition. In addition to its smaller physical footprint, which makes for quick in-and-out trips, shoppers can use Go Grocer's mobile app to order anything from their weekly grocery haul or a single ready-made lunch for delivery within "minutes," the company's website says. Go Grocer MKE has partnered with Grub Hub to fulfill delivery orders.
In an environment where convenience has risen to the top of consumers' priority list and retailers are forced to practically bend over backward to keep shoppers happy, Go Grocer sharpens its competitive edge by staying equally as focused on quality, said Rivera. Ready-made items are prepared fresh at Go Grocer's commissary located 45 minutes south, just over the Wisconsin-Illinois border, so nothing sits on the shelf for very long.
"You're getting the same quality you get at a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's," he said.
But the main difference between Go Grocer and those big-box brands are the values and personal touch that comes with family ownership, or what Rivera calls the "old school" way.
"Our parents used to be able to go the grocery store, and they'd see Jimmy, they'd see Sarah and say, 'Hey, how are you?' There was a conversation, and it was those relationships that our parents had with the people that ran the stores or the managers or employees is what old school is. Now everything has just become a quick transaction where there's very limited emotion involved and no personal connection. We're bringing that back...," he said.
Family is how the Riveras got into the grocery business the first place. They grew up with Greg and Paul Stellatos, who founded Go Grocer about two decades ago. Children of immigrants - the Riveras from Mexico and the Stellatos from Greece - the two sets of brothers bonded over their love of soccer. They remained close friends into adulthood, and in 2019, the Stellatos approached the Riveras with a proposition. They wanted to keep the business closely held, but they wanted to expand the brand nationally through franchising. They needed someone they could trust to lead that effort. The Riveras agreed.
For the past year and a half, the Riveras have worked under the Stellatos, learning the ins and outs of the Go Grocer brand and business. They had ties to Milwaukee, and Johnny and his wife had moved here a few years prior, so the market was a natural choice for expansion.
There is already a second Go Grocer MKE location in the works for a 2,430-square-foot space at 926 W. Juneau St. in the former Pabst brewery complex. Set to open in mid-summer, the store will include a small indoor seating area.
Starting Jan. 18, the Third Ward store will operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with hours subject to change based on foot traffic patterns. Eventually, the location will have three to five employees, but the Riveras will be the only two on the floor for the first few of months.
"We're going to focus on creating a culture, working our stores, knowing the ins and outs and meeting the consumer, so that when we do bring a team member on, they know that we care and they'll buy into the culture," said Rivera.