Supermercado Mexico expands its West Michigan footprint with the addition of Mexicana Bakery while continuing to provide authentic flavor and service to the community. Marla R. Miller shares the local, family-owned company's recipe for success.
From engineer to entrepreneur, Javier Olvera and his family saw a need and an opportunity to expand Hispanic grocery and bakery offerings in metro Grand Rapids eight years ago. Today, Olvera serves as president of Supermercado Mexico, a family-owned grocery chain experiencing impressive growth and providing traditional Latino and Mexican foods, products and services to the Greater Grand Rapids community through three locations.
Olvera, 39, and relatives formed Olvera Enterprises and purchased their first convenience-type store in 2006 on the city’s southwest side. Since 2010, they have acquired and remodeled two more stores in Wyoming and rebranded all three as Supermercado Mexico.
Their Wyoming stores feature the largest selection of Hispanic groceries and meats in the area – and recently added artisan baked goods. In January, Supermercado Mexico at 3355 S. Division Ave. near 34th
Street finished construction on bakery facilities in the back of the store.
The Mexicana Bakery will provide fresh breads, pastries and muffins daily to Supermercado stores and other retailers and restaurants. It is headed by veteran and respected baker Miguel Perez, who owned his own bakery for many years.
“This is something we have been working on for some time and are excited to have it open,” Olvera says. “By operating our own bakery, we have better control of the quality of the breads we will sell, and that is very important to us.”
The groceries cater to West Michigan’s Hispanic residents, attracting customers from Holland and surrounding communities. They make the trip for hard-to-find ingredients, spices, dry goods, produce, meats and breads while shopping in an inviting setting.
Along with brightly painted orange and yellow archways, the music, signs and greetings are all in Spanish. And for English speakers, a trek through the store provides a unique cultural and culinary experience. Recipes are posted on Supermercado’s Facebook page
for those looking to try authentic Mexican dishes.
The Olveras pride themselves on making customers feel welcome and completely remodeled their Division Avenue and Chicago Drive properties into modern, clean grocery stores. Both stores boast 11,000 square feet, stocked with products and brands popular in Mexico.
One of the biggest draws: A full-service meat counter with homemade chorizo, seasoned fajita meats, skirt steak, ribs and chicken and more unusual selections like tongue, pork butt and beef feet.
Shoppers also can cash checks, wire money, ship packages and buy novelties, games and religious candles and symbols from a counter reminiscent of a shop in Mexico.
The California-born Olvera heads Olvera Enterprises, the family corporation that includes his wife, Kerry, brother, Pablo, and sister-in-law, Maricela. As a youngster, Olvera’s family moved back to Guadalajara, Mexico, and he lived there until age 16. His family then relocated to Grand Rapids, and he graduated from Union High School in 1993. While working at Steelcase, Olvera earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and product development from Ferris State University.
“It took me nine years to graduate, but I had no debt,” he says. “I really loved that company.”
Olvera enjoyed working as an engineer, but quit Steelcase in 2009 to invest in the area’s growing Hispanic community and pursue the American dream. He has four children, newborn to age 10, and lives in Wyoming.
“I can grow as much as I can for my family, for the community,” Olvera says. “I knew there was a need for grocery stores. Everyone has to eat three times a day.”
His sister-in-law, Maricela, worked at the first store they purchased, La Tapatia, and helped him learn the ins and outs of ordering inventory, what services to provide and their customer base. The Olveras officially renamed that first store Supermercado Mexico – Clyde Park at 1546 Clyde Park Ave. SW in Grand Rapids in January. Buying La Tapatia was the beginning of Supermercado Mexico.
“We wanted to be sure this business was going to be successful,” Olvera says. “Sales have increased every year since we started. We have grown fast.”
In 2010, they purchased and expanded the store at 1160 Chicago Drive SW in the heart of Wyoming’s Hispanic neighborhoods. That location includes a restaurant and, long before they purchased it, was one of the first Hispanic grocery stores in the area, Olvera says.
The remodel doubled its size, moved the taqueria to the front and unveiled the now familiar colorful arches and bright festive colors that can be found at all three stores.
“Half of the building was empty and the restaurant was in the back,” says Raul Alvarez, who handles public relations for the company. “They moved it to the front and opened it up.”
The restaurant’s menu, served dine in or carryout, features made-to-order tacos, tortas, burritos, quesadillas, tamales, specialty hamburgers and more. Traditional drinks include horchata, Jarritos Mexica soda and Coca Cola made with cane sugar and served in a bottle.
As another service, that location is the only place in the city to offer bus trips via Autobus Regiomontanos to Chicago, Texas and other cities in the United States and Mexico, according to Alvarez.
A year later, they opened a second Supermercado Mexico on Division Street, which now houses the Mexicana Bakery. It was a former auto parts store and required extensive interior renovations.
“We put in everything inside, all the coolers, the meat cases,” Olvera says. “The mall is right next to us. It’s a really good spot for us.”
The Mexicana Bakery is just another part of their growth strategy and has been well-received, Olvera says. The breads are more colorful, flavorful and fresh than anything shipped and sold in a package or box, he says. Mexicana Bakery will serve as a distributor of daily baked breads, with Perez overseeing the bakery’s operations as its head baker and manager.
Olvera cites Perez’s more than 20 years of baking experience and his reputation in the Hispanic community as the reasons he pursued the union. Perez toils behind-the-scenes making and baking an average 1,000 pieces a day – everything from turnovers and muffins to iced pastries and breads. He plans to add wedding and birthday cakes as the bakery grows.
“I try to make the people happy,” Perez says. “My recipes are different. Nobody has them. The flavors are different.”
The company’s growth and reinvestment in their businesses has garnered several recent accolades. In spring of 2013, Supermercado Mexico found itself on the Michigan Top 50 Companies to Watch 2013 list. The company adds that honor to the 2012 distinction of “Most Promising Business” from the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. And recently, Olvera learned of the company’s nomination for the 2014 SBA Business Person of the Year award.
Olvera has sought out involvement and partnerships with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce Local First and the City of Wyoming. Supermercado Mexico is committed to serving the Greater Grand Rapids community beyond the traditional Hispanic population in the neighborhoods where their stores are located, Alvarez says, and partnered with Wyoming city officials on community events in recent months.
“The City of Wyoming has been a great friend and partner through every building and expansion project we have gone through, and for this we are very grateful,” Olvera says.
Olvera attributes the growth of Supermercado Mexico in the last few years to quality, selection and service. They focus on providing the best service and making customers feel comfortable, he says. His long-term goal includes expanding to outlying cities such as Holland and Lansing.
More information on Supermercado Mexico can be found at www.supermercadomexico.com and via Facebook at www.facebook.com/supermercadomexico.us.
Marla R. Miller is a freelance writer who enjoys meeting cool people and telling their stories. Her interests include arts, entertainment, entrepreneurs, food and travel, innovating organizations and the inspiring work of nonprofits. An award-winning features writer and former newspaper reporter, she is not putting her master's degree to use, but finally feels happy. Check out her website: marlarmiller.com
Photography by Adam Bird