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La Ranchera: Grocery store offers convenience and the comforting sounds, scents of home

September 29th, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life, Business

By Alice Bailey

The last few days in Logan have been rainy, and this morning is no exception. Alberto seeks protection under a green awning outside La Ranchera until his boss arrives to open the doors. It’s 8 a.m. and Alberto waits patiently to begin his work in the bakery section of this Hispanic convenience store.

The building sits on the corner of 100 West and 100 North in Logan, and is painted the colors of the Mexican flag, perhaps in an attempt to attract the appropriate clientele. Almost all the words on the building are Spanish, with the exception of a sign in English that advertises an odd combination, “Discount Groceries and Loan.” The morning light comes through the glass doors and the piñatas hanging from the ceiling and rows of ethnic foods are visible to those outside.

Small bags of spices hang on a rack near the produce section. Each root, vegetable and fruit is clearly marked in price, as is each cut of meat. A statue of a pig sitting on a rocking chair resides on the display case for the meats.

A red truck soon approaches and the boss is here. The man who exits the truck has a very light complexion and blue eyes. His name is Horacio Leonhardt and he is from Argentina. He doesn’t speak English but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone here considering everyone who works here and nearly everyone who shops here speaks Spanish.

Leonhardt isn’t the owner of this store, his son Fernando is, and though Leonhardt is now retired, he spends a lot of his time helping his son run the two businesses he owns, La Ranchera and Gonzales Meats.

This early in the morning the store isn’t as active as it will be later today. None of the specialty counters have been opened yet, but later people will be able to select cuts of meat they will find no where else in the valley, and eat such specialties as sweet breads, Mexican ice cream, seafood and tacos.

According to the National Historic Register on Logan, this building has been around for more than 50 years. It once housed Valley Discount Market, but closed when the need for local grocery stores decreased.

Dee Chugg has been working on the same block as La Ranchera for over 30 years, and he remembers the building staying vacant for several years after closing as Valley Discount and opening as the new store. It struggled for a while until the Hispanic community discovered its existence. Now it is one of the most popular Latin American markets in town.

The appeal of the store to the Hispanic community is obvious. The entire store is full of Hispanic food, while most grocery stores contain only one aisle of the same. The majority of the products are from Mexico but also come from places such as Columbia and Argentina.

When asked why he thinks people shop the store, Leonhardt said, “I think it’s the attention we give them because we speak the same language.”

Julio Vergra, who serves on the board of directors for the Cache Chamber of Commerce said coming to a new country can be difficult for many people because they come as adults with their own identities already established. Upon arrival they have to learn new regulations and a new language all at the same time. Something as comforting as a grocery store with a cut of meat you are familiar with can ease the transition.

Even within the Hispanic community there are many cultural differences because the members of the community are from different countries.

“When you have an Anglo business they all look to the same direction and they all have the same background,” Vergra said. “When you look at a Hispanic, they’re trying to be successful, every single one, just like any other business, but they come from different ideas, so you have way more diversity with Hispanic businesses.”

Leonhardt said one thing all members of the Hispanic community share,“They like the bread the people in Mexico make.”

Even with all the challenges faced by newcomers to the United States, some view it as a refuge from their own home. When the economy went bad in Argentina in 2000, Leonhardt contacted an old friend who offered to let him buy La Ranchera. Since there was no work to be had in Argentina, Leonhardt decided to come to Utah and look it over. Not only did he and his son like the business enough to buy it, they were very impressed with Cache Valley.

“We lived in Cordova, which is a lot like Los Angeles,” Leonhardt said. “There’s a lot of noise and insecurity. It’s really calm and secure here. The people are really respectful. This is good because when people respect each other there is a lot of peace.”

Leonhardt hasn’t found the language barrier to be too much of a problem. “It’s hard and it’s not hard. It all depends on how one decides to approach it. There are times when I go to a store and I can’t express what it is that I want, but my wife speaks English, my son speaks English, my son’s wife speaks English, and my three grandchildren speak English. I’m the only one who doesn’t, but I understand a lot. I’m always trying to learn new words. It really hasn’t been a problem.”

Vergra said there’s an estimated 20,000 Hispanics in the valley. This has contributed to the number of Hispanic businesses in the valley. Vergra said there are around 15 to 20 established Hispanic businesses in the valley, reaching all the way from Hyrum to Preston. Other businesses, such as those based out of the home, would make that number 65 to 85.

But the need for these businesses may be decreasing. “If there’s a place where five people work, three being Hispanic and the other two Anglos,” Leonhardt said, “the first to get laid off are the Hispanics. Right now there isn’t much work for Hispanics. Many Mexicans have left, and gone back to Mexico. So the Hispanic economy is pretty bad, but I think it’s going to change and get better.”

Vergra said he believes that not only will the economy change, but so will the whole country. He thinks everyone should be willing to change with it if they want to survive.

“I would say that, at some point, maybe in a hundred more years, the community, English, Hispanic, Japanese, it will be very integrated, so I think businesses should be trying to create the globalization of their services.”

Many other parts of the country are well ahead of Utah on their willingness and ability to unite all cultures. If the integration of the cultures is inevitable, like Vergra predicts, then maybe being ahead of the game is a good place to be. Trying some of the ethnic cuisine offered by La Ranchera may be a small step, but a very delicious and delightful one.

Some of it won’t even be that strange to people who have spent their whole lives in the United States. Maybe try the “Autentico” (authentic) Chinese-Mexican ramen noodles, or the Marianella treats that are very close to Hostess. Leonhardt promises that the Tequila flavored ice cream is very tasty, and so is the tea.

The unknown is frightening to most, so let’s get familiar. To those who are making many of these delicious foods from their native countries, almost nothing here is familiar. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes and step out of our own comfort zones. Life is short, but there are still so many meals to be eaten. Try something new, and don’t be afraid.

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  1. 2 Responses to “La Ranchera: Grocery store offers convenience and the comforting sounds, scents of home”

  2. By Les on Oct 26, 2009

    We all need to learn more – about one another, about where we came from and where we are going. Which brings up the small number who know where they want to go, let alone where they ARE going.

  3. By Filipino Store on Jan 22, 2010

    I definitely enjoyed reading your insights and learning from your blogsite. Thank you for sharing such an interesting and informative article. – Filipino Store

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