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Latino Market Arrives With Giant Aspirations

Once shunned by city officials, Gigante gets a warm welcome in Anaheim. Store officials hope to prove it's a first-class chain.

May 07, 2003|Denise M. Bonilla | Times Staff Writer

Walking into Gigante Supermarket in Anaheim, Patricia Moan and co-workers Margarita Colligan and Vincent Zorrilla knew they weren't entering just another grocery store.

Rolling their cart past Mexican sweetbreads beckoning with their sweet aromas from the panaderia, the trio were greeted by neat rows of 15 types of chilies fanned out in brilliant hues of green, orange and yellow. The Gateway Medical Group workers stopped at the tortilleria, sampled one made with green jalapeno, then continued on, commenting on its freshness while staring wide-eyed at the shiny new store before them.

"It's beautiful," said Moan, 49, who was shopping for ingredients for their lunch. "And you can't beat the prices -- 8 pounds of rice for 99 cents."

Gigante Supermarket, the multibillion-dollar Mexican chain, makes its official Orange County debut today in Anaheim, less than a year after city officials resisted the move because of Gigante's Latino focus.

"This gives us the chance to serve the Anaheim community and show that we are a first-class supermarket chain," said Justo Frias, president of Gigante USA, based in Santa Ana.

The opening marks the fifth Gigante store to open in Southern California since 1999. Three more are scheduled to open this year in Los Angeles and Chino.

The Anaheim store had its "soft" opening Sunday, giving the staff a few days to ensure everything is in place and working smoothly. Today's official opening ceremonies will feature grocery giveaways and performances by a mariachi band and a Latin jazz combo.

In the first two days, the store brought in more than 6,500 customers, with more coming each day, store manager Robert Camu said. Patrons have been a cross-section of Anaheim, he said, with many Latinos, but also Asians and whites.

"We're trying to be a neighborhood store," he said. "We're not just trying to cater to Hispanics. We cater to everyone."

That wasn't the impression of some Anaheim planners last summer. After initial locations for a store were rejected by city officials, Frias settled on Anaheim Plaza, with an opening planned for fall 2002. Then in June, the city's Planning Commission rejected Gigante's application for a liquor license.

The company's supporters cried racism, citing a memo from Redevelopment Director Elisa Stipkovich criticizing the chain for being too focused on the Latino market. After an appeal and much media attention, it was granted the license.

Frias said Tuesday that any tensions between Gigante and Anaheim are a thing of the past. "In the last six, eight months, the city has been super," he said. "We have a good line of communication with the city right now."

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