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Kowalski's plans to add full-service restaurant

Pizzeria Pezzo is set to open inside the Woodbury Kowalski's by November. Hannah Black / RiverTown Multimedia

Yet another Chicago-style restaurant is on its way to Woodbury, this time in the form of a hot national trend — the groceraunt.

Pizzeria Pezzo — which serves authentic Chicago deep-dish pizza among other Italian meals — is set to open inside the Woodbury Kowalski's by November, said Kowalski's Chief Operating Officer Mike Oase. He said Kowalski's has been working with the city over the course of several months. One of its remaining hurdles is to gain the city's approval to keep the same number of parking spots. Following the Woodbury Planning Commission's recommendations set Monday, the City Council will hold a public hearing at its June 12 meeting.

After Kowalski's Chief Merchandising Officer Terri Bennis met Gary Bougie at his then-restaurant Slyce in Chicago, she introduced him and his wife, Keri, to the store's co-owners, Jim and Mary Kowalski, Oase said.

The resulting partnership led to the 2013 opening of Pizzeria Pezzo in White Bear Lake, a short drive up Highway 61 from the White Bear Lake Kowalski's Market.

Jim Kowalski died months before the opening in 2013, and Gary Bougie died months afterwards, in April 2014.

Gary's wife, Keri Bougie, owns the restaurants in both locations separately from the Kowalskis, who invested in the business prior to its first opening. Bougie's original Chicago restaurant has since assumed new ownership.

The full-service restaurant is planned to go in the store's northwest corner, near the kitchen and gadgets section, Oase said. It'll be an addition to Kowalski's current buffet-style and counter-service dining, and the restaurant will require its own staff, he said.

Though the menu has yet to be finalized, the White Bear Lake location boasts classics such as coal-fired and deep-dish pizza, lasagna, meatballs, and a variety of salads.

"We're just excited about bringing the restaurant to Woodbury and we think it's going to be a great fit for the community," Oase said.

Across the state, grocery stores have been adding variations of the "groceraunt" in recent years, Jamie Pfuhl, president of the Minnesota Grocers Association. It's one of the top five trends the association is tracking for 2019, she said.

"I think sometimes people might think, 'Oh, that's just in the metro,'" she said. "It's a far-reaching trend in Minnesota."

Grocers are trying to do two main things: attract time-starved consumers and provide a full "experience" worth paying for — which research shows is increasingly important for younger consumers, she said.

The appeal extends to a variety of age groups as well, she said, especially in an age where consumers have more options than ever to order dinner, such as through online services.

"Customers are looking for something high quality, ready to eat, and the groceraunt is a natural transition for that. You can pick up a gallon of milk while you pick up something hot for your family," Pfuhl said.

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