Alfredo Linares’ first major life change happened in 1964 when he and his family ventured from a small town in Mexico to Chicago, Illinois. He was 9 years old at the time, and it was a true culture shock. He was struck by the many different nationalities that live there, the cold and the snow. He had never before seen snow.
In 1986, Linares took a chance and went into the grocery business. He got a loan and bought a 6,000-s.f. grocery store from a friend. His friend gave him a few weeks of training, and then Linares was on his own. He’s since grown the business to eight successful Food Market La Chiquita grocery stores across the Chicago area.
When entering one of his stores the first thing one notices is the festive decor—from the custom, hand-painted murals on the walls to the colorful signage that brightens the overall mood. All eight stores feature dine-in Taquerias (restaurants) that are known for their traditional homemade dishes. Additionally, four of the stores have in-store bakeries that offer made-from-scratch desserts, breads and other goodies.
Over the years the Food Market La Chiquita stores have garnered a reputation for quality perishables and excellent service. The stores have made a name for themselves by giving their customers exactly what they want. The stores are located in a variety of neighborhoods across the Chicago area, and each one is geared to its particular community and customer.
Stellar customer service is one of the foundations that has helped make Linares successful. He says he truly considers his employees as family and friends. Some have been with him from the beginning, and many more have been with Linares for a decade or more.
“We’re in this together—they take care of me and I take care of them” said Linares. “It’s the only way we’ll remain successful.”
Linares’ wife, daughter and brother-in-law all play important roles in Food Market La Chiquita operations. He also has four brothers in the grocery business. Between them, they own 20 supermarkets in the area.
Over the course of his life, Linares says he has embraced change. Recently, for example, he switched to Associated Wholesale Grocers (AWG) as his grocery distributor. Central Grocers, which previously served the store, recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“When you change suppliers it’s a big, big deal,” Linares said. “We felt very welcomed by AWG, and we trust them. They get us great deals, they have so many products and their support services really opened our eyes.”
AWG CEO David Smith added, “Alfredo is a remarkable man, and I’m very proud to have met him and his great family. We’re honored he joined us—it’s quite a compliment coming from a leading operator like him.”
Over the years, Linares has weathered the usual ups and downs of the grocery business with his positive outlook on life.
“I’ve been in this great country now for many, many years, and it’s been a rewarding and wonderful experience,” he said.
From his humble beginnings in Mexico to his success in Chicago, Linares considers himself a blessed man and looks forward to continued prosperity.