By Shirley Hawkins
As the owner and of Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, one of the few Black-owned grocery stores in Compton, California, 46-year-old Eugene Bennette has finally realized his lifelong dream.
A veteran of 32 years of working in the grocery business, Bennette landed his first job working for grocery store chains at the tender age of 15. “I started out pushing shopping carts at the Boy’s Market stores where I eventually worked my way up to stock boy and later worked as a cashier,’ recalls Bennette, a Compton native.
The son of a single mother, Bennette was determined to provide a better life for his family. “I liked the grocery business and I always wanted to be a store manager because I knew they made a good income,’ Bennette recalls. “And I was determined to control my own destiny.”
Bennette also worked at Superior Grocers in Compton where he steadily continued to increase his knowledge of the grocery business.
Impressed by his lengthy resume, Bennette received a call from a recruiter at the San Francisco headquarters of Grocery Outlet in 2018.
“He contacted me and said, ‘Are you looking for an opportunity to own your own market?’ I said ‘yes’. After 4 or 5 months I turned in my two-week notice and I went into a training program for Grocery Outlet. After I completed my training, I purchased the store in Compton in 2019.”
Bennette said it is not unusual for him to work 12-hour days. “I get here at 5 a.m. before my employees arrive,” said Bennette. “I get my paperwork done and spend the next hour paying bills. At 6 a.m. I walk out of my office to see what needs to be done on the floor. I’m hands-on when it comes to working with my employees and I also really like interacting with the customers. Usually I leave the store at around 5 p.m.”
The store owner says he has been approached by numerous young people who ask for advice about starting a career in the grocery business. “I tell them that they should apply for a grocery job while they are still in their teens and then learn as much as they can,” he said. ”There are so many aspects to managing a grocery store. You have to know about refrigeration, maintenance, city permits, accounting and ordering products. You learn all of that as you continue to climb the ladder.”
Grocery Outlet has helped to dispel the long-held belief that Compton was once considered a food desert. Bennette says that Grocery Outlet has emerged as a headquarters for healthier eating.
The store offers local shoppers a variety of organic and gluten food products, an abundance of fresh produce, a well-stocked meat department and a large assortment of wine, liquor and beer. The store also has gained a reputation for offering deep discounts on one-of-a-kind items that are hard to find anywhere else.
“I think there are those who think that Black people are not into healthier eating, but that’s a stereotype,” Bennette observed. “No one has given them an option to buy vegan and organic food and plant-based items.
“There is a huge vegan community in Compton and we are the only outlet in the city that caters to a healthier lifestyle. I really wanted to focus on giving the community healthy options because our community is taking better care of themselves overall,” he said.
The store also rigidly adheres to COVID-19 protocols. “We have cart wipes and hand sanitizing stands are placed throughout the store. And we make sure that our employees are tested every two to three weeks.”
Bennette said that the store has drawn a large and loyal following, “Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, city council members Michelle Chambers and Emma Sharif and several city council members regularly shop here,” he said.
Helping the community is also a top priority at Grocery Outlet.
“We feed about 350 community residents on Thanksgiving and during Christmas, we partner with the NAACP and president Paulette Gibson hold a toy giveaway for the kids,” Bennette said. “We also host a food drive for the homeless and every third Saturday we have a Black Business Expo farmer’s market body lotions and soaps in the Grocery Outlet parking lot.”
Bennette said that he is proud to serve the residents of Compton. “It’s definitely been a good ride for me,” he reflected. “The platform has given me the opportunity to give back but also to own my own business in the community.”
Grocery Outlet is located at 2175 Rosecrans Ave, Compton, CA 90222
Phone: (310) 667-5527