The new Northgate Gonzalez supermarket opened on December 12, 2012 bringing fresh foods and groceries to an area long neglected by mainline supermarket chains – Barrio Logan. It is located at the corner of Cesar Chavez Parkway and Main Street. Prior to opening, this ethnic Latino neighborhood had only the usual complement of fast food restaurants offered to poor ethnic neighborhoods such as McDonald’s and Church’s and Popeye’s fried chicken chains.
In a food desert there is little in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables, but thanks to the Mercado Redevelopment Project, Barrio Logan has been considerably spruced up and is a food desert no more! In 2010 The San Diego City Council approved plans to transform two city blocks of vacant land in Barrio Logan into the Mercado Project which also featured 92 affordable housing units.
Carlos Castañeda, who grew up in Barrio Logan, said it was about time the neighborhood had a source of fresh produce and reasonably-priced groceries.
“The city just totally neglected us for decades, Castañeda said.
“So the fact that we’re sitting in an area that had junkyards, had toxic waste sites, believe it or not, and now we’re sitting in a beautiful market that’s going to serve the very community that it’s surrounding, it is a very big deal.”
The San Diego City Council and Mayor Bob Filner proclaimed December 11, 2012 Northgate Gonzalez Mercado Day.
The Northgate Gonzalez supermarket chain was started by Miguel Gonzalez who migrated to the US with his late father, – also named Miguel – from Jalisco, Mexico in the late 60s. They both worked factory jobs until they were able to open their first supermarket in a Latino neighborhood in Anaheim in 1980.
Miguel Jr sold his house and his father refinanced his to come up with the money to finance the first Northgate Gonzalez supermarket. Initially, they knew nothing about the supermarket business. After they managed to open, they had $240. left to actually run the business so they employed only family members at first. Luckily, they came from a large family. Miguel has 12 brothers and sisters.
Miguel Sr made the hot carnitas and chicharrones which went down well with their mainly Latino customer base. A couple of brothers ran the meat counter while the sisters worked the cash registers. Today the stores have bulk food sections like you find in health food stores. They have a large variety of ethnic Mexican foods like carnitas, ceviches, salsas and aguas frescas. Cumbia plays over the speaker system and television screens in the meat department show soccer games and Mexican talk shows.
Today the supermarket chain employs over 5000 people at 37 stores, most of them Latino, and including dozens of family members. The stores are located all over southern California from Anaheim to Los Angeles to Santa Ana to Long Beach. There are 3 stores in San Diego and 4 more in San Diego County including stores in Vista, Fallbrook, Chula Vista and Escondidio.
They have even branched out to financial services at Barrio Logan. Northgate Financial, now Prospera Gonzalez, will provide a complete suite of financial products to Northgate customers to satisfy their current and future financial needs and will guarantee the quality and delivery of these services with respect and an honest price. Payroll checks are cashed for free unlike the check cashing services normally found in the ghetto which charge exhorbitant rates.
While ethnic supermarket chains are growing, traditional supermarket chains are declining. For instance, in El Cajon recently a huge Ralphs on 2nd Street closed just as two Iraqi owned supermarkets located nearby opened. The so-called ethnic supermarket industry has seen its revenues grow around 2 percent annually during the past five years, while the supermarket industry as a whole has been losing money. There is a large Vietnamese supermarket, Thuan Phat, in Linda Vista and a Japanese supermarket, Mitsuwa, in Kearny Mesa. The signs at Thuan Phat are in Vietnamese and Spanish. They have a huge fish market.
Even Michelle Obama in her perennnial attempts at promoting healthy foods spoke at a Northgate Gonzalez supermarket in Los Angeles last year. She was there in behalf of The California Endowment which sponsors the California FreshWorks Fund. Northgate Gonzalez was the first recipient of loans totaling $20 million from the FreshWorks Fund. Now they will be able to open more stores.
“We just think they’re a phenomenal operator,” said Tina Castro, director of investing for The California Endowment. “Their stores are beautiful, they offer a tremendous selection of produce and they really care about their consumers and engage with the communities that they’re based in,” Castro said.
“Northgate Gonzalez’s efforts to improve their customers’ health include in-store cooking demonstrations and a line of foods identified for shoppers as healthy choices.
“Back in Barrio Logan, customers say they love the beautiful produce, huge selection of meats, prepared Mexican dishes and tortillas made in-store from scratch.
“A reviewer on Yelp called Northgate Gonzalez, ‘Whole Foods Market for the working class Latinos.’
“One shopper said what he loves most is when he hits his local Northgate Gonzalez market on the weekend, it’s like being in Mexico.”
In April of 2000, Miguel Jr and his brothers and sisters created the González Reynoso Family Foundation to give back to the community.
Their website states:
“Our foundation is proud to continue our support of our community and our heritage by focusing our efforts to help those in need.”
In 2011, they donated more than $100,000 to local schools and neighborhood sports teams. In addition, they also serve neighboring communities by maintaining sports facilities and by donating to families in need during the holiday season. They also support various orphanages and convalescent homes in Mexico.
Barrio Logan is the latest recipient and beneficiary of the González Reynoso Family’s success. Latinos as well as all San Diegans can celebrate the fact that these good people have brought not only fresh meats, fruits and vegetables to Barrio Logan, but have done it as a family owned business not a corporate owned entity beholden to Wall Street.
Lucas O'Connor says
While there are definitely reasons to be happy about the Mercado Project, it seems worth also noting that the new supermarket is non-union and barely a mile from an Albertsons where employees are represented by UFCW Local 135.