Chicagoan boxes up city


Getting a care package in the mail is always a nice surprise, but most probably do not include Chicago delicacies like Vienna Beef giardiniera, Jay’s Potato Chips, a Manny’s Deli Snack, or a large Chicago flag and Blackhawks gear.

Last spring, Marty Groark founded the company Chicago Gift Box to send Chicago edible and sports essentials to people outside the city. 

The boxes come in three sizes containing three, five or 10 customizable products and can be shipped within the U.S. or internationally, for an additional fee.

The Chronicle spoke with Groark about the inspiration behind Chicago Gift Box, the most popular products and the farthest places boxes have been shipped to.

THE CHRONICLE: What inspired Chicago Gift Box?

MARTY GROARK:I had friends and family in Florida who wanted some food they couldn’t get [outside Chicago]. I thought, “Maybe there is an opportunity to send Chicago flavors anywhere.” I looked into it a little and thought people would want to send [the products] as a big gift package. It seemed easier to pack everything in one big box, so I just made a website and started packing boxes. 

How did the boxes become popular?

I started when the Blackhawks were making their playoff push, and I was able to piggyback on that. Once I got the sports memorabilia in the boxes, it helped that the Blackhawks were so successful because I think people around the country wanted to share in the celebration that was going on in Chicago, and [the boxes] were a good way to do that. They buy a big box of Chicago food and some cool Blackhawks stuff and get it shipped right to their front door. People could send their own gift boxes, but it’s a lot more convenient to just plug it in online, hit enter and the get the box shipped.

How did you choose which products would be options for the boxes?

Some of [the products] are the more well-known brands like Manny’s Deli and Vienna Beef. Those were the big names and easy choices. For some of the other foods that are in there, I just looked into the history of the city and some of the products that have come out of here. I remembered Tootsie Roll was a Chicago thing, and I found that Andes Mints were originally Andes Candies here in Chicago. It was a combination of brand recognition and associating with Chicago, but also the tastes I always remembered [growing up in Chicago].

What are some of the most popular items?

Definitely the big names like Jays, O-Ke-Doke popcorn, Vienna Beef giardiniera and Manny’s Deli. I work with local vendors around who are starting up, like Sullivan’s barbecue sauce. [The creator] is a South Side Chicagoan, and he approached me about getting it in [the boxes], and it’s a big hit. There’s a lot of Chicago flag and sports stuff, too. Everybody likes the big Chicago flag. That’s the one I usually ship in about every box.

How far have you shipped a gift box?

I think it’s cool when I ship to Alaska and Hawaii because they just seem so far out there. I have also sent [boxes] to places including Germany, London, France, Spain, and I have a couple inquiries right now to send to Australia. It’s cool to see that these boxes are going everywhere in the world.