Johnnie’s Foodmaster on Squire Road has reinvented itself, and after some major renovations are complete, they plan to open in early October with a new name, but retain the same staff and ownership.
John DeJesus, second-generation owner of the grocery store chain (his Dad was the original Johnnie), told the Journal in a recent interview at the store that it would now be called Johnnie’s Save A Lot. However, he also said that doesn’t mean he is giving up ownership or control of the store.
“Being a family business, you have to do what you can do to compete with these foreign companies,” said DeJesus, referring to other, larger supermarket chains in the city. “Save A Lot is owned by Super Value and that used to be our supplier. We’ve been doing buying with Save A Lot for years. They have corporate stores, like in Chelsea, but we’re not corporate. Being a licensee means I buy my product exclusively from Save A Lot. I still own the store 100 percent. Whatever I lose and whatever I make is on me…All it means is we buy our groceries from the Save A Lot warehouse.”
DeJesus said that all of the same faces would also be at the store when they re-open, including popular managers Glenn Sanford and Steve Morabito.
“Basically, you’ll see the same faces,” he said. “Nobody lost their job. They’re working at other stores until we re-open. These people are not just employee, they’re friends. I toss and turn at night thinking of these employees. I look in the mirror every day and say, ‘I’ve got to be a good guy.’”
The building project at the store includes an investment of $500,000 in updates, which were needed in the circa 1978 store.
However, DeJesus said he could not just refurbish the old store and continue doing business the old way. He said the competition now is just too fierce – especially in the Squire Road area. With two Stop & Shops in the immediate area, a BJ’s Wholesale Club and a new Price Rite opening soon, business in the local grocery market is a sink or swim proposition.
Johnnie’s looks as if they’ve made a deal that will keep them in the swimming pool.
“It was time,” he said. “I’ve been trying to think of how to do it for a while. In the last couple of months or so, [Save A Lot] got hungry and we put a deal together. All it means is I buy groceries from them. What I’m trying to do is make this a viable business that will be here another 32 years. It’s just a matter of what’s the best vehicle to do that.”
DeJesus said that of the 10 other Foodmaster stores, this is the first one to enter into such an agreement. He said that he is experimenting with the plan and trying to create a great shopping experience with great prices.
“The whole blueprint is to have a cheaper price image, but have a lot of the items people want,” he said. “We pride ourselves on getting things for people that they want…My hope is to come out with prices that make people’s heads spin. We’ll make it worthwhile for people to come in.”
One of the changes in the new store will be that there will be no deli or seafood counter. There will be the same meat department, as well as plenty of frozen foods, and a new low-price pallet special section.
The store will also maintain its new beer and wine section.
In closing, owners and managers stressed that they will not be a corporate Save A Lot store, which some view with a negative mind, but rather they would be Johnnie’s Save A Lot.
“There are people who have a preconceived notion of Save A Lot,” said DeJesus. “They’ve been to the Chelsea store. That’s corporate, not us. We’re still very much in control here.”
The new store is scheduled to debut in the first few weeks of October.