Q. How has your career evolved over the years?
A. I moved to California in the early 80s, and it was one of those quick decisions. I sold everything I had, got a one-way plane ticket and came out here with no job. I looked for what I knew best, which was deli. My uncle owned a deli, and I worked there in high school when I was 16. I also was a painter and sold perfume on the streets, which didn’t work out too well. My career really started when I hooked up with Gelson’s, where I worked for nine years. I hit it at the perfect time. The store had a wall deli and fried chicken and fried potatoes but was evolving into gourmet salads, charcuterie and hot prepared foods.
I learned a lot during those years. I had an excellent culinary director who was great in training us. I had the opportunity to work with chefs. Being that Italian foods is in my blood and loving food, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen working with chefs and supervisors and learned the prepared side of the business. It was an opportunity to get more involved with cooking, cold salads and starting my career. I had a short stay with Irvine Ranch in the Beverly Center until they went out of business. I met the sales person who led me to Bristol Farms. They were opening up their Manhattan beach store, and I was a co-manager/assistant manager. After just three months, I started running the deli for a couple years before the company was sold.
The company went through some changes and being at the right place at the right time I got a promotion to deli director. It was a little scary, but I loved working with the food, and merchandising was my passion. But jumping into corporate and dealing with budgets and numbers and meetings was a little scary for me. I always worked for the private companies with the original owners like Bernie Gelson and Irv Gronsky but now was working for an investment group. I had people in the industry talk me into taking the job, and I’m glad I made the move. I’ve been at Bristol for 30 years and in my role for about 25 years.
Q. What is your leadership philosophy?
A. It has changed throughout the years. I used to try and be a one-man show. Through the years, I did some studying and read some books. It really is about supporting people who are running the department. I’m here for support. I also do the procurement, buy good food at the right price and give customers what they’re asking for, including new items that are trending and exciting. I don’t micro manage. You have to give people support, which comes in different ways. I want people to provide input and be creative in their own way.
Q. What is the best advice you ever received and why?
A. One man cannot run an island. My boss gave me that advice. It’s important to delegate and trust people around you. I began backing off and trying not to worry about small details.
Q. How do you balance your work and personal life?
A. It’s not so easy. I never used to do that, and it was a problem for me. Retail never stops, and there is always something going on. Even at night, I’m getting calls and emails. If you don’t find a time to cut work off, you can get very sick. It took me getting sick, I ran myself down and had to take a break. It was an eye opening experience and forced me to put balance in my life.
Q. What deli retail trends have impacted the industry most over the last year?
A. Definitely keto has been really big. For us, we’re really trying to expand our vegan and vegetarian offerings. I personally have my feelings about some of the things we’re trying. as it’s a small majority that are vegans, but it’s the up and coming generation we’re going after. We’re seeing that trend as well as organic and starting to dabble in it regarding foodservice. Bristol Farms does cater to all customers so we are looking for those attributes that are trending. You can see that throughout the store. Our organic selection in produce is large, and we are striving to offer all-natural food wherever we can. I find that some departments translate better than others regarding organic. It’s not our core business in foodservice but those are changes we are making. And gluten free is still trending.
I’m proud of starting programs at Bristol. I used to go back East to food shows. Now, in addition to walking food shows, I walk the city delis and look at trends there. Trends start in Europe and work their way into the U.S in most cases. I’m proud of starting our self-serve hot case program and turkey hand carving station, which are still winning programs today.
Q. What hobbies do you enjoy outside of work?
A. My hobby is music. I play guitar and have a little studio that I can get lost in for a couple hours. I also like to fish when ever I can get the water; it seems there is never enough time for that!
Q. Are you married? If so, how long? How many children?
A. I got married right before COVID. I met my wife in Mexico, where I built a house in 2010. She moved to Arizona. We were Facebook friends and dated long distance then ended up getting married in Los Angeles. My wife and I don’t have kids together however I do have two stepsons from my recent marriage.