Originally published in the Jan. 8 edition of the Orange County Business Journal
For the González family of Northgate González Market, associates at its grocery stores and executives at the company are all considered to be a part of a family business that’s been decades in the making.
Almost 50 years ago, there was only Don Miguel González Jiménez and his two oldest sons relocating from Jalisco, Mexico to California. The father and his son Miguel González Reynoso provided the seed equity and the remainder of the family provided sweat equity to convert a former liquor store in Anaheim into the first Northgate market.
The rest of the family, Doña Teresa Reynoso de González and the other eight González children at the time, would reunite with their father and brothers in La Mirada in 1976. The store would open in 1980.
“We like to call it the great reunion of our family,” Northgate Co-President Oscar González told the Business Journal.
Oscar González is the youngest of the 13 total children of Don Miguel and Doña Teresa. All 13 are still involved in the business. The third generation of the González family now works at the company as well.
“There was a dream to open a store for each sibling,” Oscar González said of the initial push for the founder’s children to operate their own stores as the business grew. This motivation, along with natural sibling competition, helped with the beginning of the Northgate expansion, he said with a chuckle.
The family now owns and operates 44 locations in California, making it one of the country’s largest Hispanic grocery chains.
Costa Mesa Opening
Last year saw the company open the largest store in its chain, and one that’s arguably the most notable opening for the family since its original spot in Anaheim.
The roughly 70,000-square-foot spot in Costa Mesa, the Mercado González, is a new concept for the grocer, one that reflects their Mexican heritage. The Mercado, Spanish for “marketplace,” aims to serve the locals that have long been drawn to the grocer’s products.
The company renovated a former Albertsons at the northeast corner of Harbor Boulevard and Wilson Street into an expansive marketplace and food hall featuring a collection of vendors serving Mexican cuisine and specialty Mexican products alongside traditional grocery offerings.
“We came to the conclusion that by creating an authentic food experience, it would allow us to grow our customer segments,” he said of the Mercado González, which opened in November.
These customers include core, first-generation Latinos who like to cook from scratch, along with U.S.-born Hispanics who are drawn to their cultural cuisine outside the kitchen.
In addition, the Mercado was designed to attract “food explorers” from all kinds of backgrounds.
The early results indicate the family has hit a home run with the Mercado González, with packed parking lots and lines out the door.
The success of the Costa Mesa location, and the decades-long growth of the Northgate brand, earned the family the Business Journal’s nod as Businesspeople of the Year, in the retail sector.
González noted that as Mexican food has grown in popularity in the U.S., so have the fortunes of the Northgate González Market business.
“Our products were resonating with the immigrant community that was established in Anaheim” and Orange County, González said.
“It matched what many of them had left behind.”
For the new spot in Costa Mesa, “it was about doubling down on what is authentic Mexican food, and how can we do it better than anyone else,” González said.
There are about 20 puestos, or food stands, that offer prepared Mexican dishes such as menudo, tamales and birria. Other vendors fill up the rest of the space to sell meats, salsas, cheeses, produce and other products.
To round out its offerings, Mercado González opened a fine dining restaurant called Maizano brought to life by Los Angeles-based culinary duo Jorge Salim and Javier Hernandez Pons. The market also includes a 6,000-square-foot outdoor bar called Entre Nos Bar with a wide selection of mezcal, tequila and Mexican beers.
“Part of the reason why it took longer to open is because in some way, we had to create a new paradigm,” González said.
The executive said that Northgate had become very good at operating “standard supermarkets” and had to establish a space within the organization for the team to be creative and “break some rules.”
“It creates a container where good things could happen.”
Costa Mesa is the only city to currently have the Mercado concept. Northgate plans to open other marketplaces, and similar iterations, in the coming years.
Future Mercados would allow Northgate to reach the broader Los Angeles area and eventually other states, González said.
“It is a concept that elevates our existing stores,” he added. “There’s a lot of learnings we’re taking from there.”
The Costa Mesa Chamber of Commerce expects the Mercado to bring “a substantial economic contribution to the city.”
The project—the largest local addition for Northgate González since opening its 384,000-square-foot headquarters in 2010—has the potential to create around 300 new jobs in the city, adding to its local headcount of 2,399 people across its headquarters and stores in OC.
The company donated $21,000 to a group of Costa Mesa-based nonprofit organizations and schools in honor of the Mercado opening.
“We are a purpose-driven organization where we believe in people first,” González said.
The ultimate goal for the family-owned business is to grow into a 100-year, multi-generational company, according to González.
“To be able to grow an organization, the stakeholders need to be aligned. My brothers and I are all [agreed] that this is what we want to create,” he added. The weekly lunches with his family for the past 30 years have helped, he said.
Since 1980, the Northgate family has grown to 6,000 employees. A number of new locations are in store for the next 12 to 24 months.
González said the group was excited for its brick-and-mortar expansion plans as it aims to create “a lifestyle center” with each store.
Growth plans also include introducing different formats of the supermarket and the Mercado over the next three years.
“The passion is contagious if you have the right vision,” González said.