While Brett Verkaik ’03 didn’t picture himself in the food industry, it so happened that he often found himself in work situations where he had to ponder food products and presentation.

That background has served him well, as Verkaik and three other partners have opened Standard Market in the Chicago suburb of Westmont—and the related restaurants Standard Grill, adjacent to the market, and Bakersfield, just across the street.

Brett Verkaik
Brett Verkaik

Standard Market has been getting plenty of attention from Chicago media and from national food publications and organizations for its dynamic approach to fresh food processing and presentation.

“What we’re about is a chef-driven celebration of food,” said Verkaik. “We set out to create a European-style, open-air perishable market with the goal of having the best butcher shop, scratch bakery, fisherman’s wharf, farm-stand produce and house-made deli all under one roof. We create everything in-house from scratch rather than just resell what vendors sell us. We’re helping the consumer cook and eat better.”

The spacious market feature a number of glassed-in work stations where Standard staff members can be observed making sauces and dips, baking bread and pies, and cutting fresh fish and meat.

“The open-kitchen concept is important to us,” Verkaik said. “You can see our chefs, where our product comes from and how it is processed. The term ‘high-quality convenience’ is usually an oxymoron. Our model is a hybrid, and we create an audience for the product, expertly preparing it for the customer’s benefit.” Verkaik calls this “food theater.”

Verkaik and his partners hope that this innovate approach pays off, not only in the market itself but also in the restaurants—currently the Standard Grill and Bakersfield—with the idea of expanding the market and restaurant locations across Chicagoland. These dining facilities will all feature the fresh food and professional culinary skills supplied by Standard Market.

The market also feature a popular “What’s for Dinner Tonight?” meal each day with a tantalizing option made fresh, of course, by the culinary team for reheating and easy dining at home.

Verkaik prepared for his career at Calvin by majoring in business, working part-time in a local food store and trying his hand at a variety of internships, so he could determine his gifts and interests.

“I think a business student should have at least three internships before they graduate,” he said. “You need to gain a basic understanding of business, build a networking system among professionals and start to develop a direction for your career.”

Even the internships that helped him rule out careers were important times of learning and growing.

“If you’re going into accounting, you can see the path toward what’s ahead, but in general business that road is not so evident because the options are so wide. God has opened a lot of doors for me. He has put me in the right place at the right time. You have to build off of your experiences and perform well,” said Verkaik.

After Calvin, Verkaik was hired by Bolthouse Farms out of Bakersfield, Calif., (hence the restaurant name) to market its juice line in west Michigan. Promotions ensued, and he became the company’s national merchandising director. He began recruiting and hiring young Calvin alumni, who have followed in his footsteps.

“The intent was to establish a pipeline that was Calvin-heavy,” he said. “Bolthouse was a Christian company [prior to being purchased by Campbell’s] so Calvin grads—hard working, well trained, faith focus—were a natural choice. Many have been offered jobs and many have been promoted.”

It was through Bolthouse that Verkaik and his three partners met and later decided to launch Standard Market and Grill.

“We’ve been open now for just over a year, with little idea what might happen because what we’re doing is so new, “said Verkaik. “But we’ve seen how successful our synergy of market, grill and restaurant has worked, and we’re excited about the future.”