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Kontos Column: Local groceries and the boomerang theory

By Dan Kontos

I’ve got to admit that I am not a fan of shopping. I never have been. However, I like to cook, and cooking requires groceries. There is no real way to get around that.

As with my other pieces about neighborhood businesses, I try to highlight those firms I have found to be an asset to our local community. While not strictly a Portage County-based grocery store, I have become fond of Festival Foods on the north side of Stevens Point, and apparently, so have a lot of you.

Now, like all my columns, Festival Foods didn’t know that I was writing this. They don’t really even know who I am, and probably never will. Just how I like it. I get nothing from focusing on them, and would not accept anything if offered. I just think that periodically we should recognize some of our local gems that really stand out in our area.

My frequent trips to Festival Foods have grown my appreciation for the small but important things that I encounter when I go there. Like so much in Central Wisconsin, this grocery is palpably different from its competitors.

Located tucked back at 1600 Academy Avenue, it’s not the most plainly visible store you will visit. Mostly hidden from the view of Division Street, it really is a destination trip when you visit.

Festival Foods gives off a different vibe. When you first pull into the lot, you can see the employees are different. They’re friendly, and rarely pass by without saying hello. To a reticent person like myself, I usually find this annoying, to say the least. Not here. I’m happy to be greeted by pleasant people who truly seem to be glad you are there.

Let me just say that I like the fact that they hire some people from the community that frankly might not get hired somewhere else. Differently-abled employees who make up the Festival family lend to the friendly atmosphere there. Not to mention that they are all really good and diligent workers.

The store is always clean and tidy, and if you find yourself shopping on a rainy day, loaner umbrellas stand by to shield your walk. The selection may be slightly smaller than other grocers, but I’ve never been a fan of the warehouse feel of some places. I always find what I am looking for, and the variety of brands is excellent.

Whether it’s hot or prepared food, bakery goods, produce, meats and seafood, or the usual staples, you should be able to find it all there. This includes freshly made sushi, if you’re into that kind of thing, custom cakes, catering, or organic foods, I’m never disappointed.

Their selection of beer, wine, and spirits rivals local liquor stores. You can also shop online with curbside pickup, or even have your groceries delivered to you at home.

Other hidden gems include not just weekly deals, veteran coffee gatherings, meal suggestions and recipes, community fundraisers, online shopping lists, and fuel discounts. Festival Feeds has partnered with Kwik Trip and created the Gas Rewards Program. For every dollar spent, including beer, wine, and spirits purchases, you earn one point. That means 100 points equals ten cents off per gallon of gas, at any Kwik Trip location.

Founded in 1946 as Skogen’s IGA, they became Festival Foods in 1990. They are a Wisconsin-based, family- and employee-owned business that has over 40 stores in Wisconsin and some 8,000 employees, according to their LinkedIn page.

In an August 2023 article from The Cap Times, Festival Foods CEO Mark Skogen said, “his dad borrowed the ‘boomerang principle’ from a grocery store in Ireland. Under that guiding principle everything about the store is designed to get customers to come back.” Well, that has worked for me so far.

There are plenty of other alternatives, but I’m just not into feeling pedestrian at Walmart, and Aldi has never been my bag (no pun intended.) Save A Lot is a nice hidden gem and a solid go-to. As for Metro Market, I am disillusioned with their parent company, Kroger, and choose to spend my money elsewhere. There are also smaller boutique shops and specialty stores that are excellent, but obviously their selection is only for targeted shopping.

For me, I’ll go out of my way to visit my Wisconsin-based friendly grocer. If you haven’t tried them, I highly suggest you do. The shopping is great, and the people reflect our hometown values. That’s a winning combination for me.

By the way, today is Orthodox Easter. To all my Orthodox family and to all of you, Christ is Risen. Now, stay out of my way. I’m off to Festival Foods to grab some huge steaks. If you know, you know.

So, with that, let’s meet in the opinion section to talk about all of it, boldly, honestly, with an appreciation for all our local businesses, and with a healthy respect for each other. Until then, remember that God loves you, and so do I.