‘We cater to the community here by being diverse’
by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer
Mike Piña founded Vista Markets in the late 1980s as a bakery. Over the years, it has transitioned into a full-sized supermarket. Today, the company operates seven grocery stores in El Paso, Texas, with plans for an eighth at the beginning of 2022.
“The community in El Paso has been good to us,” said Piña, company president. “We cater to the community here by being diverse. I would say 80 percent of our population is Hispanic, but it’s a kind of Hispanic that is more Americanized, so we’ve learned how to serve that market.”
And with that history in El Paso, Vista Markets was quick to adapt to new offerings and safety protocols in 2020 due to coronavirus.
“We opened additional hours for senior citizens to make them feel a little bit safer. And we started doing curbside, which we had never done,” he said. “We have been registering our business under different programs, providing the vaccine to frontline workers. In addition, we provide our employees with protective equipment such as gloves and enforce sanitation protocols.
“Vista Markets has a sanitation crew that specializes in carefully cleaning and disinfecting bathrooms, shopping carts, cash registers and all surface areas. The safety and health of our employees and customers is our priority, so we continue to follow all state and local regulations as well.”
Nevertheless, some of the challenges and changes that have come with the pandemic have been out of the company’s control. Especially in El Paso, where cases were at a record number in the latter half of 2020.
“It’s been challenging with products. When everything started, we were running out of product at every grocery store,” Piña said. “But Affiliated Foods Amarillo has been a very good co-op for us. They have really, really stepped in and were able to get us the product that we need.
“I think having a good supplier is very important, especially during these difficult times. The problem that we all had was running out of product. I think Affiliated stepped up to the plate – from meat to canned goods.”
Looking to operations in 2021, Piña admitted it’s hard to gauge what the year holds with the lingering unknowns of coronavirus. However, his goal is to do whatever it takes to best serve the customer base.
“It depends on what we’re competing with in the pandemic,” he said. “I think the important thing is that we have learned to cater to our customers differently, and I think that’s going to continue into 2021. And customers are going to continue being concerned. It should be a busy year for grocery operators.
“We will continue to cater on the prepared meals as they’ve been growing drastically…as a matter of fact, we have a commissary where we produce all of our prepared meals…it helps us to cater to the customer a little bit more efficiently and give them more of a variety of products.
“What we’re producing in our commissary is our baked goods, prepared meals and a small tortillería department. We’re going to expand on all three…with a new phase of the commissary this year.”
Piña said Vista Markets’ specialty is flour tortillas. The stores also offer a wide variety of pastries – everything from traditional Hispanic offerings to croissants, muffins and doughnuts.
On the prepared foods side, the stores offer simple staples ranging from smoked brisket to various Hispanic beef stews and rice and beans.
“Sixty-five percent of our sales are on the perishable side – produce, meat market, bakery, tortillería, prepared foods. I think that’s the key. That’s one of the things that makes an operator different,” Piña said.
“It’s very diverse, and that’s what we’re trying to continue in 2021 – trying to learn and pay attention to our community’s needs.
“At least in our market, competition is tough, and it’s always going to get tougher and tougher. I think that just to be different would be the key to our success.”
Piña said the commissary, as well as the possibility of employees getting the vaccine soon, also offer hope.
“We’re trying to learn how to cater to the customer as efficiently as possible with less labor…and hopefully, this vaccine will turn things around and make it safer…especially for our employees,” he explained. “Where they used to be close to each other, at work, now we try our best to separate them as much as possible and still keep them efficient. I think that’s our big challenge – how to keep our employees safe, spread them out.”
To learn about what the Texas Retailers Association has been doing throughout the pandemic, click here for another Shelby exclusive.