WINNETKA, ILLINOIS — You may not know Maria Llanas or Lily Tovar, but surely, you’ve seen their work.
Maybe you were a guest of the popular North Shore House Walk or the North Shore Kitchen Tour. Their artwork was present at numerous local weddings this past season. And, of course, if you’ve ever walked through The Grand Food Center, either in Winnetka or Glencoe, their work has probably stopped you in your tracks.
Maria and Lily are the floral designers and directors for Grand Floral, a specialty offshoot of the food center that is collecting accolades as readily as new customers. Grand Floral has expanded almost entirely on word of mouth, keeping Maria, Lily and their teams busy all year around. “We are doing a little bit of everything right now,” Maria said. “This year, we have done our seventh wedding and are going for No. 8. We do last-minute centerpieces and arrangements, same-day delivery and ordering.”
Each morning, Maria and Lily receive shipments of fresh flowers for their shops, and each morning they carry them inside with wide grins. The florists’ passion for their job has been a pillar of Grand Floral’s growth. “I’m like a little kid at a candy store,” Lily said of receiving the flowers. “It’s like, ‘Oh, I got flowers today. These are beautiful.’” The rest of the day is spent designing arrangements in order to please their customers — another passion of the Grand Floral team.
A big reason for that is many of Maria’s and Lily’s customers are regulars and those who aren’t might soon be. “We don’t just customize our flowers; we customize our service,” Lily said. “We know our customers’ names, they know our names, we know their kids, we know their family, we know what they like.” The familiarity with the customer only makes the business more special. Many times, when Maria and Lily lead floral production for a wedding, they know a family involved in the ceremony. That holds true for other events, like graduations, birthday parties and even funerals. Maria told a story about a longtime customer who passed away and her team knew exactly which flowers to arrange, earning high and emotional praise from the family.
Friendly, reliable customer service is just one benefit of Maria’s and Lily’s departments at Grand Floral. Others may surprise you:
- Since Grand Floral is located within a grocery store and sees constant foot traffic, it sells more flowers regularly. So they restock often, meaning the flowers are fresher than most florist shops.
- Additionally, customers will find a lower price point with Grand Floral than many other florists.
Grand Floral can also customize for any occasion or any customer. For example, Maria’s team designs arrangements for every home on the prestigious Housewalk. She tours every home beforehand the event and prepares 10 custom arrangements per home. The special service is personified by the shop’s promise that it can fill whatever container a customer brings in. “They bring in their containers and we bring their ideas to life,” Maria said. “Some bring pictures or have colors they want … and we have everything ready. You should see the office full of vases before Thanksgiving.”
Grand Floral is a division of The Grand Food Center and can be found inside the store’s two locations: 606 Green Bay Road, Winnetka, and 341 Hazel Ave., Glencoe.
The Grand Food Center is a specialty supermarket with two stores on Chicago’s north shore suburbs. Dan Klebba and Chris Barber are the co-owners along with Kevin Salus. Dan and Chris both started out there as teenagers working as bagboys in the 1980’s. With such a long history, tune in to discover how they aimed to revamp the store while upholding its community reputation.
Chris Barber describes The Grand Food Center, which he owns with partners Dan Klebba and Kevin Salus as “old school.” But it’s the store’s old school customer service that has kept the grocery, with locations in Glencoe and Winnetka, in business for 30 years.
“We have customers for life,” Barber, told DailyNorthShore.com.
The business partners got their first taste of the grocery industry in the early 1980’s, when they worked as baggers and stock boys at Dee Jay Foods in Glencoe. That experience instilled in the men the value of customer service, at time when they were expected to load and unload customer’s grocery carts and help shop for groceries.