In celebration of The Save Mart Companies being named The Shelby Report of the West’s 2022 Retailer of the Year, Lucky California Store Manager Mario Guerrero led Shelby’s Bob Reeves on a tour of the company’s store in Pleasanton, California.
Lucky is a banner of The Save Mart Companies, along with Save Mart and FoodMaxx.
Guerrero, a native of Hayward, has been with the company for 22 years. He said Lucky California wants to be known as that “traditional grocery store with the plus.” That includes walking into the store and smelling the aromas of regional foods cooked in-store.
There is also a demo station that’s used on weekends, where employees create a “culinary craft recipe” for home cooks to follow and taste.
“All you do is download the actual recipe on the QR code,” Guerrero said. “Everything’s there for you – you’ve got your protein, you’ve got your veggies and anything that’s grocery related is right there. It’s a one-stop shop.”
Another aspect of the store is the huge emphasis on local products. Guerrero said several local items are featured in The Drinkery, including the top craft beer on tap, Maui Waui from Altamont Brewery.
“Customers know where to get it and its price is in line with our competitors,” he said. “We have a lot of local items featured throughout the store. We’ve got the hummus as we go into the entertainment island. It’s local here in California, and we’ve also got hyperlocal.”
Guerrero said Lucky customers love the local items and, through signage and other methods, the store tries to educate them.
Emphasis on fresh
“One thing we want to be known for here in Pleasanton is, as you walk in, we’re not your traditional grocery store,” he said. “There is a lot of emphasis on fresh-baked bread, your local home fried country chicken, rotisserie chicken. And once we walk into the service deli, you’ve got a lot of the proteins that have a side that will complement them.”
The Drinkery features smoothies made by one of Lucky’s drinks specialists, as well as 16 beers on tap – many of them local, Guerrero said.
“It’s all drinks,” he said. “One of our things that we do produce here is our jalapeño lemonade. We cook our jalapeños, slice them up and make this simple syrup. And then we squeeze lemons and it’s very delicious, not spicy at all.”
Hal Levitt, SVP of retail operations for The Save Mart Companies, said produce is important for the region’s demographics and customers walk into that fresh experience.
Guerrero, who started his career as a service specialist in San Lorenzo, said he enjoyed working in produce. He was quick to point out the cutting station.
“One thing that I tell our cutting specialists is to make sure that we taste it before we put it out there,” he said. “Because it may look good, but we want to make sure that’s quality product…we want to make sure everything’s nice, crisp, the labels are spun.”
Guerrero also discussed an area that features international brands.
“There’s a lot of Asian and Indian descent within our community. You’ve got dragonfruit, starfruit, kumquats,” he said. “When you’re sick, ginger and turmeric are your go-to.
“Then, you have your classic comfort food here that we want to also offer. Every day, the recipe changes. If you have somebody who likes our Tex-Mex enchiladas, you know to get them on Wednesday.”
The store uses items from the Smoke and Fire barbecue area to produce new items, such as enchiladas, tamales or lasagna.
“It’s more sustainable,” Levitt said. “We’re keeping items fresh in other areas, and then we produce other foods from those items.”
Guerrero next turned to the salad bar, where customers can pick toppings. It also features soup and ceviche, always popular in California. The area also features a sushi chef who prepares food in-house, all customizable.
“These are all internal recipes,” Levitt said. “They’re not coming in packaged. They are producing these items here in the store. Our chef, Kevin Cabrera, works on developing different recipes for us. And it’s all produced in-store.”
Guerrero walked to the entertainment island, which is a destination for a celebration – party, wedding, birthday. Charcuterie boards are available, along with fresh fruit, chips and guacamole that is made in-house.
“If you’d like it spicy, we can throw some habañeros in there to give you that kick,” Guerrero said.
The entertainment station can produce any type of party trays or charcuterie board, which also is customizable.
“We have some of our guests that bring their actual wooden boards here, and then we just fill it up. They can tell their friends they got it made at the local Lucky…we’ve got veggie trays, bean dip trays, flat breads, dips, spreads and our customized charcuterie boards.”
Guerrero referred to Salt Craft Bakery items, which feature the local sign: Pleasanton since 2018. He also pointed to a two-tier colossal raspberry cake and single-serve cake options.
Bobby McDowell, VP of store operations for the Lucky banner, said the latter has taken off in popularity.
“One of the trends that I’ve seen that people do now when they’re entertaining, instead of buying just a large cake, which a lot of people still do, they’ll buy multiple small things and have people just take pieces…I think it’s a trend that we’re in front of.”
Guerrero noted local items featured from Sheng Kee Bakery, based in San Francisco since the 1950s.
“It’s a great product and it pertains to our Asian clientele. People are really hooked on this item,” he said of the pineapple buns. Also featured nearby are items from Ariana Sweets, a Middle Eastern bakery.
He also noted the recipes available to shoppers, featuring two ways to make a meal – a ginger beef stir fry or beef fried rice.
Rebecca Calvin, SVP and chief merchandising officer for The Save Mart Companies, said the recipes are important. “This was our way of celebrating how the Bay Area eats, by having these recipes. But it’s all of the ingredients plus general merchandise,” she said.
“This store is one of the top stores in the company for cookware, because we feel like we brought everything together in one spot to inspire one to make the recipe at home, learn how to do it with QR code activation and here you can watch it – plus you have all of the ingredients in one spot.”
Guerrero continued the tour, pointing out other local vendors. “We want to be known for, ‘Come to Lucky California and get all these local items that other stores may not carry,’” he said.
Another option for shoppers is to visit the meat department, pick out a selection and get it grilled for free. The store in Pleasanton also is carrying a selection of finfish, which is unique to the store, as is its candied salmon. Black cod is popular as well as an oyster bar available on occasion.
Another thing unique to the store is its in-house sausages, Guerrero said. “We have eight different varieties right now as well as our featured pub patties … all in-house recipes.”
Dry-aged beef also is available. He said there was a waiting list during the holidays. A QR code is available to explain to the curious what dry-aged beef is, Guerrero said.
The dairy department features some items for the store’s Indian clientele, such as the Gopi brand yogurts, ghee, cheeses and paneer.
With Napa Valley not far away, the large wine section boasts many local varieties. “We want to get our guests to taste this, potentially in our Drinkery, and then come back here and buy it later on for at home, parties and so forth,” Guerrero said.
The next stop was at the pizza station, which is a big draw. “We just rolled out our new pizza kit in the service deli…and it’s been doing really great for us.”
A bulk olive oil station offers a variety of quality olive oils customers can put into containers. Information is available on pressed olive oil and Balsamic vinegar.
Another station allows customers to make their own nut butters, such as peanut or almond. Local honey also is available, Guerrero said.
For more information, visit thesavemartcompanies.com.
To read the full Retailer of the Year section on The Save Mart Companies by The Shelby Report, click here.