Treasure Island Foods, a family-owned Chicago gourmet grocery chain is closing down after 55 years in business, with is remaining six stores shutting down on October 12, according to an article in The Chicago Maroon, the University of Chicago's student newspaper, which first broke the story.
The Chicago Sun-Times obtained the text of the note the chain's CEO, Maria Kamberos, sent to its employees last week. "We made the very difficult decision to wind down operations as a company," the note said. After apologizing for the impact on employees, Kamberos explained: "We have done everything we could to attempt to get the company on solid ground to try to operate for another 55 years. Unfortunately, given the current industry conditions, it has been impossible for us to continue to operate without losing money." In other words, this much-loved mom-and-pop chain is the latest victim of Amazon and Whole Foods.
Treasure Island Foods was founded in 1963 by Christ Kamberos and his brothers. Christ Kamberos was born in Chicago to Greek immigrants. His father sold produce from a cart. Kamberos, on the other hand, became known as a grocery innovator who traveled the world to find exotic foods for Chicagoans to sample. Julia Child once praised the store as "America's most European supermarket."
Kamberos died in 2009, and his death was followed by a lawsuit in which his daughter Christi Kamberos Matthews accused her stepmother, Maria Kamberos, the company's current CEO of deliberately alienating her from her father and reducing her inheritance.
Despite this unpleasant incident, things seemed to continue to go well under Maria's leadership. Less than a year ago, the chain was planning a new location, its eighth, in Uptown Chicago. "Our company is doing great. We're expanding, we're remodeling our stores," Christ Kamberos Jr., the chains vice president of marketing told the Chicago Tribune at the time. Still innovative, the company planned to introduce a "produce butcher" who would peel, dice and slice fresh fruits and vegetables for customers.
But none of that ever happened. Treasure Island Foods pulled out of the deal for its new location and closed its Lincoln Park store in September. That leaves six stores still operating until October 12, although some shoppers report badly under-stocked shelves.
Though Maria Kamberos did not say in her note why the company was losing money, it's a safe bet that competition from increasingly gourmet national chains, Amazon, Whole Foods, and food delivery services put too much pressure on the small chain. It's a shame. That produce butcher sounded like a great idea.