Our Story

Our Story

Just over 40 years ago in 1983, Jim Kowalski was working for Red Owl and took note of their store on Grand Avenue that seemed to be underperforming. Together with his wife Mary Anne, their life savings and a loan from a friend, they decided to take a ride down the grocery aisle.

In March 1986, they purchased another Red Owl Country Store in White Bear Lake and converted it into a Kowalski's Market. Having slugged it out with the giants of the day and with warehouse stores beginning to cast a longer shadow, Jim and Mary Anne began the long process of differentiating Kowalski's Markets from the discounters by adding value to the shopping experience.

A central bakery facility was added in 1991 that could supply their stores with fresh bakery products at a great value. In 1993, the Kowalskis built a franchised Cub Foods store in White Bear Township that would assure purchasing power throughout all their stores. But Jim and Mary Anne knew they could never differentiate themselves in the grocery aisle. In distinguishing themselves, Kowalski's was becoming the store where shoppers found the unusual or new product.

In August 2000, the Kowalskis' vision for what a grocery store could be was unveiled in Woodbury. It was the first Kowalski's Market built from the ground up. Designed to look like a European village, it featured a glass-walled bakery oven, three restaurant concepts, a department store-quality gift shop, an educational and meeting area, a full-service JUUT Salonspa, and a Natural Path department offering organic and natural foods and homeopathic products. People waited in line to see it. Grocery industry people came from all over the world to see it. It was heralded as the next level in grocery stores and copied throughout the world.

In April 2002, Jim and Mary Anne bought a small chain in the Minneapolis area known as GJ's SuperValu from lifelong friends John and Carol Vranicar. Once again, what was now becoming Kowalski's signature European market theme was executed in the remodeling of these stores. Each of the stores opened to rave reviews from excited customers. In February 2004, Kowalski's Markets expanded to the Minneapolis suburbs with the acquisition of Driskill's New Market in Eden Prairie. Remodeling was completed in November 2004.

Since then, Kowalski's Markets has continued to expand, opening new markets around the Twin Cities:

  • June 2005: The Kowalskis open a market in Stillwater/Oak Park Heights.
  • July 2015: Mary Anne Kowalski and her daughter Kris Kowalski Christiansen open their first store together in historic downtown Excelsior. The store is located on Water Street a few blocks away from Lake Minnetonka, in the old Mason Motors building.
  • November 2016: The Kowalskis open their store in the city of Shoreview. Once an old Rainbow Foods building, the store was modeled after the Excelsior store and the recently renovated Grand Avenue store. It now also houses our Central Facility, which includes a central bakery, commissary kitchen, meat production facility and transportation facility.

There are now 10 Kowalski's Markets in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, with our Edina Market at Southdale Center slated to open on May 30, 2024.

Jim and Mary Anne Kowalski and Kris Kowalski Christiansen have received the highest honors in the industry, Jim as Minnesota Grocer of the Year, Mary Anne as the National Grocers Association Woman of the Year, and both Mary Anne and Kris as Entrepreneur of the Year in the Upper Midwest. But the real accomplishments have come through building lasting relationships with customers and employees.