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Cardenas Markets expanding west to Orange, Los Angeles counties

The Ontario-based Hispanic grocery chain will open a Whittier location next spring with more coastal stores to come.

By JACK KATZANEK  |  The Press Enterprise

PUBLISHED: November 14, 2019 at 3:52 pm | UPDATED: November 15, 2019 at 6:57 am

Cardenas Markets, a fixture of the Inland Empire’s grocery scene for 38 years, is setting out on a westward expansion.

The Latino-themed supermarket chain, which operates 59 stores, has never had a location west of Pomona. That will change in May when Cardenas opens its doors in Whittier.

That store, using 34,642 square feet in a former Stater Bros. at 11750 Whittier Blvd., will not be the last one Cardenas adds in the coastal areas of Southern California, said Marco Robles, Cardenas’ public affairs director. The store will employ about 120 people.

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Cardenas Markets first store west of Pomona will open in May 2020 in Whittier. The store is being developed in a former Stater Bros. at 11750 Whittier Blvd. (Rendering courtesy of Cardenas Markets)

“This is the first of many more to come,” Robles said, though he declined to specify which cities the company was considering.

Robles said Cardenas has been expanding at a clip of about four stores a year. In May the company announced it would open locations in Victorville, Concord, Tucson and Las Vegas before the end of this year, and in Montclair in 2020. The Las Vegas store will be Cardenas’ fifth in that city. Tucson will represent its first foray into Arizona.

The move to Los Angeles and Orange counties represents a significant acceleration to that expansion, he said.

“We certainly see the opportunities there, with the demographics of the coastal areas,” Robles said. “It is obviously very much a part of our outreach.”

The announcement of Cardenas’ move westward comes as another Latino supermarket chain, Anaheim-based Northgate Gonzalez Markets, moves east with a new store coming Riverside, its first Inland Empire location. All of Northgate’s 40 stores are in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.

In a statement, John Gomez, CEO of Cardenas Markets, said that while Southern California is the largest Hispanic market in the country, the expansions of both chains are indicative that ethnic groceries are gaining popularity among a wide variety of shoppers.

“Both Cardenas and Northgate Gonzalez appeal to a whole united nations of shoppers now,” said Burt Flickinger III, a retail analyst for Strategic Resource Group. “Both companies are spectacularly successful in Southern California, and this is a perfect time for them to expand.”

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Flickinger said he would not be surprised if these chains expanded across the Sun Belt or even further east. He added that other ethnic groceries, including Asian-themed chains such as 99 Ranch Market and Hawaii Supermarket, also are drawing shoppers.

At the same time, he said, some of the more traditional markets are struggling. Flickinger cited the bankruptcy of Haggen and the closure of Tesco’s Fresh & Easy as examples.

The stores with big expansion plans often started small.

“Most of these ethic markets started with one little store, or with a corner vegetable stand,” Flickinger said.

Such is the history of Cardenas. Jesus Cardenas, an immigrant farmworker, traded some tools for a pregnant pig back in the mid-1970s. That led to a successful pig farm in Corona and ultimately a 4,000-square-foot store in 1981 in Ontario. Cardenas died in 2013.

The company was sold to investment house KKR in 2016, although the Cardenas family continues to run the company. A year later, KKR bought another Latino chain, Mi Pueblo, out of bankruptcy and merged it with Cardenas, which now operates Bay Area-based Mi Pueblo’s stores.

According to a statement released by KKR at the time, the merger created one of the country’s largest Hispanic supermarket chains.

Cardenas announced in May it would be enhancing its stores by adding coffee bars and fast-casual restaurants. Popular among customers are its cuts of fresh meat and seafood, and its bakery and pastry departments, along with scratch-made tortillas.