We have all been cautioned at one time or another to not judge a book by its cover, or just because you never heard of it doesn’t mean it is sub-standard. Both ideas fit The Hemet Grocery Outlet in the mini-mall at San Jacinto Street and Florida Avenue on the Eastside of Hemet.

The Grocery Outlet in Hemet has been there for as far back as I can remember. The company was established in 1946 and today claims 300 thriving stores. They stand up against Ralph’s, Kroger or Safeway any day of the week. I doubt a lot of people know anything about their origins or products. Their patrons sure know about the quality of their product.

I was in the local store last week when one of the cashiers told me it would be the last day of the current owners.

Why, I asked. It seems that the current owners Darryl and Barbara Salkele are retiring. Did that mean the store was shutting down? No, and here’s why.

Grocery outlets are not individually owned. It is a partnership company. Folks who would like to operate a food business can apply and join up with the Grocery Outlet Company by taking over an existing store or perhaps open one where there is a need.

Hemet, for instance, recently opened a new store at the busiest corner in Hemet, an area that is growing with great speed – Florida Avenue at Sanderson on the west side.

I arranged an interview with the new owners, curious to know why we would have two stores in Hemet and what made them attractive to the community. Chad and Leslie Trask, the new husband and wife management team, were anxious to tell me all about themselves, the store and the company.

They have been with Grocery Outlet for only 3 years. Why, I asked, did you choose Hemet? Chad has some relatives here but that was not his reason. He and his wife were located in Camarillo (Ventura County) prior to relocating in Hemet.

If you buy for a big name company, whether it be Levi Straus or Kroger Grocery Company you pay for all that expensive advertising. That can become quite expensive in a year’s time. That’s not the way it is with Grocery Outlet. Chad explains.

“We are 40 to 70 percent off of standard prices, offering premium gourmet items from Europe, and around the world.”

Come to find out it is no secret. “There is no middle man. We buy directly from the source. For instance, if a company wants to introduce a new product, they will start with a company like us to see how the public responds and accepts the product before they move into the more conventional markets. We are not stocked with insurance company buyouts of fire sales—nothing like that. Sometimes we get overruns, when too much of the product is brought to the market and is not being sold in certain markets. If a company buys like 1200 cases of green beans – and they are not moving fast enough elsewhere, we can buy them at a discount and they are not stuck with the overload. The prices are drastically reduced; we buy and pass the savings on to our customers. That’s a win-win situation.”

The company was originally started by the Read family in 1946 and is now a third-generation in the business.

How do they maintain the business with such large discounts?

According to the company history, the idea took off like a prairie fire and has yet to be contained. Jim Read took advantage as the stores spread across the country with 300 stores active now with more to come. Today they boast 1.5 million customers per week, which makes Grocery Outlet the nation’s largest extreme value retailer.

How did they do it?

“With the help of brilliant buyers who shop the world, traveling thousands of miles each year to find the most thrilling deals on brand name groceries. Whether it is through packaging changes, surplus inventory or product overruns, our buyers source it all – everything from fresh meat and produce to our natural and organic NOSH item to the WOW deal we can hardly believe ourselves.”

Their public relations office says, Of course, we wouldn’t be anywhere without the hundreds of local families who own and operate their own Grocery Outlet stores, allowing us to deliver superior customer service personalized to each of the local communities we serve.”

Chad explains the situation in Hemet. “It is a great community. Everyone has been extremely kind in welcoming us into the community.”

Do they plan any changes in the store?

“Anything to facilitate a good shopping experience, from the moment a customer enters the front door until they leave. We deliver a variety of gourmet foods, cleanliness and customer accommodations. All produce is fresh as are our bakery and meat products – at less cost than places like Trader Joe’s and other whole food outlets.”

Will they have a grand opening?

“You bet. Probably sometime during the first week of July. Nothing set in concrete today. Also, as to community personal involvement. We will have an Independence from Hunger program underway, starting in late June, where we team up with local non-profits. For a donation of $5, we will provide the customer a coupon for $5 on any purchase, so it really is costing them nothing. We donate that $5 to a community partner – right now, we are partnered with Valley Community Pantry.

“Our intent is to connect with the community more and more as they get to know us and we learn of their needs.” The new owners admit that it will take some time to be recognized and known here in the San Jacinto Valley; they have already been contributing toward organizations coping with the vast homelessness problem here. Here’s something new – to me, at least – when asked how they will deal with the fragrant shoplifting, Chad shrugged his sounders. “If we catch them, we with treat them with respect and invite them not to return.”

By the way, they are hiring. Just sayin’ [email protected].

Rusty Strait • Senior Reporter

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