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Entering the doors of one of the Food Market La Chiquita locations is a delight for all the senses. Bright colors burst into view from the wide range of fresh produce and meats, with the delicious smell of prepared food items beckoning.

“People go to those three departments, because they know they’re getting fresh, they’re getting quality, and they’re getting a fair price,” says Food Market La Chiquita General Manager Martin Sandoval. “Those three areas are the anchors for our stores.”

Those fresh ingredients take a starring role on the menu of the in-store restaurant, which is attached to every Food Market La Chiquita location, where cooks create traditional Mexican dishes including made-from-scratch soups and made-to-order tacos.

Since its foundation in 1986 as a corner market in Chicago, Food Market La Chiquita has experienced sizable growth over its nearly 40 years, specializing in Hispanic food. Today, the family-owned grocery retailer has nine locations in northern Illinois, including two markets in Chicago and one each in Aurora, Bensenville, Cicero, Montgomery, Rockford, and West Chicago. They also have a taqueria in Franklin Park.

Sandoval takes pride in the culture cultivated at all his stores. He also understands that helping employees succeed and advance inside the company is another key to the success of Food Market La Chiquita.

“I like waking up every day, coming to Food Market La Chiquita, because I know that I’m providing for my employees, for my customers, a vital service that would help them in their lives,” said Sandoval.

“The secret sauce about Food Market La Chiquita is the heart.  This is what we do. This is what we’ve done all our lives. If your heart is in it, you can see the results,” said Sandoval, who also referred to the ‘secret sauce’ as “The La Chiquita Spirit.”

Sandoval explained that 80 to 90 percent of the 500-plus Food Market La Chiquita employees live in a neighborhood not far from the Food Market La Chiquita in their community.

“One of the reasons we are successful is we take care of our employees. Because our employees are actually the face of the store,” said Sandoval. “Management is in the background, but the employees are the ones that are on the front lines.”

“There is always upward mobility. I’ve got an employee who started as a stocker. Right now, he’s the district manager for four stores, and he also procures all our equipment,” Sandoval explained. “And he started at 16 years old as a stocker!”

Alma Reyes started working at Food Market La Chiquita when she was pretty young herself. Twenty-seven years later, she is the restaurant manager at the store location in Cicero.

“I love working here all these years, because they treat me like family. I feel respected,” said Reyes, who has worked in a variety of departments over the course of her years at Food Market La Chiquita. “This is the best job I have ever had. I don’t feel it is work. This is a career.”

Every year, the management team of Food Market La Chiquita shows its appreciation to its employees by hosting a large, holiday season banquet. During the pandemic, when it became impossible to get together for their Christmas celebration, the company decided to raffle off a new car to one lucky employee. The tradition continues to this day.

“This year, an employee that’s been with us for about 20 years won it. She’s very happy, and we were glad that somebody with a 20-year tenure with us actually won it,” Sandoval exclaimed.

Sandoval stressed that the success of Food Market La Chiquita extends well past the food stocked on his shelves, noting the company also funds scholarships for community members.

“Food Market La Chiquita has been around for almost 40 years. We hope to be around for another 40, or 50 years,” said Sandoval. “Hopefully, we have taught the next generation the same values that we have.”

“If I could give one piece of advice to a new retailer, it is that the rewards are there. But in the beginning, it’s going to be tough. You’re going to have unconventional hours. You’re going to have a lot of work,” stressed Sandoval.  “But believe me, and I’m saying this from the bottom of my heart, the rewards outweigh whatever difficulties you have.”

“I love being a retailer because I see the results of my work. I see the results in our customers. We are providing a service they desperately need. Food Market La Chiquita’s customers come to us for food, but they get more because they know they’re getting quality.”

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