Jack Brown remembered as friend and fighter in grocery industry

November 15, 2016

By RICHARD K. De ATLEY, The Press Enterprise

Stater Bros. executive chairman Jack Brown was remembered Monday as a unique combination, a tough grocery-industry fighter who succeeded while also earning the respect of employees, customers and competitors.

Brown, 78, died late Sunday, Stater Bros. announced Monday. He served the company he joined in 1981 as president and chief executive officer, chairman, and executive chairman.

“I hoped that Jack Brown would live forever,” State Sen. Connie Leyva said in a phone interview. “He is the last of the breed of leaders who really cared about his workforce and understood they made him successful.”

Leyva was the president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1428 in 2003, when Brown decided he would not lock out his employees as a bruising 141-day strike began against four other chains.

“He cared about his company and his employees,” said Greg Conger, spokesman for UFCW Local 324 in Buena Park. “He really was a giant in the food industry in California. He stood up for what was right.”

By refusing to lock out his employees, they in turn, were loyal to him, Conger said.

Nick DeSimone, a Stater Bros. worker who was off-duty and shopping at the Temecula store where he works, said he’d met Brown several times when he was employed in the meat department at a store in Redlands.

DeSimone said he heard of Brown’s death earlier in the day, calling the news “devastating.”

“He was very friendly,” DeSimone said. “I cooked a rib roast for his family once.”

“He was a real solid guy. … He always wanted you to call him Jack, not Mr. Brown,” DeSimone said.

“During the devastating strike/lockout that brought Safeway-Vons to their knees, organized (unions) never struck a Jack Brown store. Not the butchers, not the bakers, not the service workers – because the rank and file blue collar could always count on Jack Brown to do the right thing,” said grocery analyst Burt P. Flickinger.

Brown, who began a box boy at age 13, worked in the grocery industry his entire career and joined Stater Bros. in 1981. He was one of the food retail industry’s greatest visionaries, Flickinger said.

“He opened stores in food deserts to support low-income families, supported family-run suppliers and championed employees,” said Flickinger, managing director of retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group in New York.