The â€˜new 60’ is the â€˜old 50’.’ It’s now a common phrase. At Vicente Foods, the ‘new 60′ is more like the ‘old 20′. This unique source of food, drink and general comestibles in Brentwood is celebrating, very quietly, its 62nd year of serving our community. Its easily recognized red-and-white striped bags are as familiar as house slippers but as fresh as their flawless produce.
Vicente is a wonderland of variety! Yes, there’s Kraft and Kellogg, Stouffer and Orowheat, Coke and Pepsi… But there are also over 25 brands of salad dressings, each in different styles and flavors. Earthy Delights offers unusual spices, mushrooms (who knew there were so many?), fruits, and chilies in abundance. Just Tomatoes isn’t. It is dried fruits and vegetables you never even considered.
This is not the place for indecisive shoppers. If you have trouble choosing between grape and strawberry, don’t confront Vicente’s amazing variety of jams and jellies. The enticing array, often in elegant jars, promises to lift an ordinary piece of toast into an unforgettable treat. There’s a World-class selection of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Beers from virtually everywhere are here: Bombardier (England), Leffe (Belgium), Ruby Ochakovo (Russia) and something called Double Chocolate Stout. Speaking of chocolate, that favorite taste is available in so many varieties and so many combinations, both for baking and eating.
Esther and Lester Adams opened Vicente Foods in a small storefront (where the Union 76 Service Station now sits) in 1948. The present building was constructed in 1962. Michael, their son, began working in the store at age 11 (1952). He has run the store since 1971. General Manager Bob Inadomi has been with Vicente for 12 years.
Courtesy, great service, and superior quality are the keynotes of the store. Much of the meat is U.S. Prime, not Choice. Only about 2% of meat is given the U.S. Prime label and very few stores offer it. The fish selection arrives 6 days a week, several times a day, from different distributors. The same is true for the produce. Vicente’s buyer ‘shops’ the wholesale markets downtown for only the best in the ‘wee hours’ each morning. When it arrives in Brentwood, if it’s not up to the store’s very high standards, it is sent back. Also, each day, 6 days a week, Los Angeles organizations that feed the needy pick up produce and other items from the store that have passed their peak by Vicente’s demanding standard. ‘Other markets sell what we give away to the food banks,’ Mr. Adams told me.
The shelves are always full. Clerks work throughout the day making sure jars and cans and boxes are ample and easy to reach. Though it’s a tight fit for the 20,000 or more items Vicente stocks, it feels like home to their loyal clientele, many of whom have shopped at Vicente for dozens of years. If you need some help or have a question, there’s always a clerk nearby, ready to assist or answer a query.
Many of the unique items stocked in Vicente are the result of customers’ suggestions. Brentwood residents are travelers and when they come back, having tasted a fine relish in New York or a delightful jam in Arizona…or Double Chocolate Stout in England. They tell Vicente’s knowledgeable staff. Much of their unique selection comes from small companies specializing in gourmet items. Many are found nowhere else in Los Angeles. Mr. Inadomi says their customers expect new and unusual items and are adventurous enough to try them.
One of the problems of maintaining Vicente’s unusual stock is that manufacturers simply stop making something. Mr. Adams estimates they lose 6 to 8 items a month; they are simply not available anymore. Sometimes a replacement can be found, sometimes not.
The grocery business has changed dramatically over the past 62 years (and continues to evolve). Vicente Foods offers a unique experience in shopping: unexcelled quality, superb employees, eye-popping variety, and convenient parking.
When I asked if there were plans to celebrate their ‘Diamond Anniversary,’ they said ‘No.’ Like Brentwood itself, fanfare isn’t necessary. Quality and service speak for themselves.