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Smart Mart brings big-city flavor to Dickinson

Press Photo by Katherine Grandstrand Smart Mart District Manager Kathy Blackwell makes a Chicago dog at Smart Mart in Dickinson on Monday. The Chicago dog along with Chicago-style Italian beef and breakfast burritos are the specialty items at the multi-purpose food store.

Smart Mart is part hotdog stand, part fast-food restaurant, part convenience store and part whatever the customer wants it to be, Invested District Manager Kathy Blackwell said.

The store opened on June 9 as the fifth and final business in the strip mall at the corner of State and Villard in Dickinson.

Shareholder Brian Riley visited North Dakota in October and saw a need for this type of business.

"I know the food in Chicago," he said. "And you guys don't have that type of food there."

Riley had trouble getting local distributors to bring the food he wanted to western North Dakota, including the Vienna Beef all-beef franks, and he had to get it shipped straight from Chicago. He aims to have fresh, affordable food available at a quick pace.

"This concept you only find in the city," Blackwell said. "(We're) bringing the city to the small town."

The menu includes Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches, Chicago-style hotdogs, burritos, fresh deli sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, and breakfast burritos.

"I'm shooting to go after that breakfast burrito at 5 o'clock in the morning," Blackwell said. "That's my main goal, that breakfast burrito."

Sandwiches are available all day, so patrons can pick up lunch and breakfast at the same time, she said.

Self-serve soft-serve machines have been ordered and are on their way, Blackwell said.

"On their nightly walk they can stop in and get some soft-serve ice cream," she said.

Smart Mart employee Kirsten Johnson is excited to work at a place that's different from a typical gas station.

Blackwell knows food. She has been in the grocery and food industry for about 30 years, and so was her father, brother and other family members, running SuperValu stores throughout North Dakota.

The Bismarck native worked in almost all of them, and ran the Washburn store for about 11 years. From there she moved to Tucson, Ariz., and helped start up a health food store, and also ran a convenience store/Vienna Beef hotdog stand in Woodland Park, Colo.

Dickinson is the first Smart Mart to open, but Riley plans to open more in the farm towns of North Dakota, as well as bring other business ventures to the area, including Chicago-style pizza.

"We find people that have a lot of talent and just really know what they're doing and we do some serious (research and development) on them and then if we fell they're a perfect fit for us then we give them the opportunity. That's what America's based of, right? Dreams?" he said.

Smart Mart isn't a set concept, either. It plans to run different daily and seasonal specials.

"We're open to suggestions, what people want -- what are people looking for -- ideas," she said.