From the shopping bag to the CEO: how the founder of Rancho Markets grew a chain from the ground up

Being a CEO hasn’t stopped Eli Madrigal from having a hand in even the smallest part of his business. Whether it’s sampling a new flavor of ice cream, meeting vendors, straightening a price sign on a box of products, or organizing the logistics of a new store, Rancho Markets CEO and founder does it all.

“I’m 100% involved in all store decisions, even when I shouldn’t be that involved,” she said. “For me it’s not my job, it’s my passion.”

At the newest location in the chain – 580 S. State in Clearfield – Madrigal certainly has its hands full. The shop has been open since 10 September and is already making a splash. The restaurant part of the shop has been so popular, in fact, that it is closed until the Madrigal can hire more people for staff.

Despite its growing success, the chain is still a family business. Madrigal says she is lucky to have not only her husband and business partner at her side, but also her son, stepdaughter, aunt, sister and brother-in-law in Salt Lake City.

The name Rancho Markets itself even has a family connection. She reflects Madrigal’s Mexican roots and her fond memories of visiting her abuelo’s ranch as a child.

Eli Madrigal, founder and CEO of Rancho Markets, laughs with his 80-year-old employee Vic Harwood at Clearfield’s Rancho Market on Tuesday, September 13.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Madrigal grew up in Mexicali, Baja California, along the US-Mexico border. He started his first entrepreneurial activity at about 7, collecting and recycling bottles. The profit went to the purchase of an ice cream every weekend in Madrigal, his mother and two brothers.

When she moved to California at age 15, she promised herself that she would work hard and would not take the move to the United States for granted. That promise from her translated into her job in a grocery store. She went from collecting shopping carts and bagging groceries to the supervisor within three years.

After high school, Madrigal returned to the border, got married and had a child. The young couple moved to Las Vegas but got divorced soon after. As a single mother, she Madrigal said she turned to the one thing she knew to put food on the table for her son: the food industry.

He worked in a Las Vegas grocery store for 11 years. Even though she worked her way up the chain of command during that time, she realized that she, as an employee, would always follow someone else’s instructions instead of making decisions on her own.

“I no longer wanted to be an employee, I wanted to be an entrepreneur”. Madrigal said. “In my childhood, when I lived in Mexico, I knew we were poor. We were middle class, low class. I always had that passion for excellence and I always dreamed of being the head, not the tail.”

Eli Madrigal, founder and CEO of Rancho Markets, holds manzano peppers as he talks about his store's produce at Clearfield's Rancho Market on Tuesday, September 13.

Eli Madrigal, founder and CEO of Rancho Markets, holds the manzano peppers as he talks about the produce from his store at Clearfield’s Rancho Market on Tuesday, September 13.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

She planned to open a small carnicerĂ­a, a butcher’s shop, in Texas or Arizona, but a friend urged her to go to Salt Lake City instead. She arrived in the city in January 2006. The snow-capped mountains were a huge contrast to the deserts she had lived in her entire life, but she fell in love with them.

“I called my mom on the freeway and said, ‘Mom, pack your bags, let’s get moving,'” he said. “‘Salt Lake City is the place.'”

With a loan of $ 170,000 from two friends, Madrigal opened Rancho Markets’ first office at 190 E. 3300 South in South Salt Lake in June 2006. She drew the plans for the store herself with a pen and ruler while she was to the town hall.

Seven months later it opened its second office after obtaining a loan from the Federal Small Business Administration. In December 2007 it already had a third office. Opening a fourth location in Provo required an 80-mile round trip, sometimes twice a day, to check into the store, but Madrigal didn’t shy away from the challenge.

“I worked seven days a week and 14 to 15 hours a day,” he said, adding that it was difficult to make sacrifices with his family. “It was a whole experience and I was so passionate.”

Eli Madrigal, founder and CEO of Rancho Markets, poses at Clearfield's Rancho Market on Tuesday, September 13th.

Eli Madrigal, founder and CEO of Rancho Markets, poses at Clearfield’s Rancho Market on Tuesday, September 13th.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The long hours wouldn’t be the only challenge Madrigal would have to face. He said it was also difficult to drive in a male-dominated industry. His personal experience, however, motivated her to ensure that around 60% of her executive-level employees are women.

“I’ll make a difference,” he said. “I hire men, but I also like to give women the opportunity to be successful.”

Hard work paid off. Madrigal said several companies tried to buy it but turned down any offers. For her, shops are more than just profit.

“We care about our community around us. We’re not here to make a profit, we’re here to serve our community,” he said. “I can’t compete with bigger chains – some of them have much better deals than us – but having the opportunity to sell to our community, wherever we are, as low as possible, and help them put food on their tables is the most rewarding thing for us “.

That community focus is evident in the items stocked at each store, many of which are not found on the shelves of the larger chains. Each shop is a little different, based on the demands of local customers. For example, Rancho Market on 898 E. 3300 South in South Salt Lake has many Middle Eastern items in addition to the chain’s usual Latin American fare. Usually, if a store receives a request for an item three times, Rancho Markets will find a way to stock it.

Apples at Clearfield's Rancho Market on Tuesday 13 September.

Apples at Clearfield’s Rancho Market on Tuesday 13 September.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“We specialize in having items that other people don’t carry,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard for us to find them too.”

Madrigal added that it was also gratifying to provide better opportunities for her employees and their families and said that it is her employees she is most proud of.

What about the future?

“I wish I could be in more cities, but right now it’s so hard to find buildings than it was years ago,” said Madrigal. “My mind is now where is next? I have to make the decision as to where next is.”

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