“Northern Initiatives saw the potential we saw and was the first lender who helped us … You are the ones who made this happen.” – Javier Olvera, owner
Javier Olvera has a simple reason for being in the grocery business: People eat three times a day. And, during the pandemic, they started eating at home a lot more. “Our business has increased dramatically,” Olvera said with amazement. “It went up 50% the first year, then another 50% the second year.”With all that extra business, the Olveras knew they needed more space. This wasn’t the first time. “Northern Initiatives saw the potential we saw and was the first lender who helped us with the expansion of the Division location,” Olvera said. Northern Initiatives has supported property purchases, expansion and working capital as the Olveras have grown their business from one store to three. The third store is moving next door into a space three times its current size. The building will be transformed into a Hispanic community plaza, with plans for shopping, dining, and more.
“You are the ones who made this happen,” Olvera said of Northern Initiatives.
Along with much more space, the new store features a mural by Arturo Morales Romero, a muralist since his teenage years in California and a resident of Grand Rapids for the past seven. The mural depicts cultural aspects and scenes from Mexico’s 32 states.
Javier Olvera is a mechanical engineer who saw the writing on the wall during the 2007-09 recession when he was working for a furniture maker in Grand Rapids. “Nobody was buying furniture!” he said, which is when the lightbulb went on about the three meals a day. “We bought a store from someone who was already running it,” he said. “We wanted to be really careful.” They added the Supermercado Mexico on Chicago Drive in 2010 and broke ground on the Division Street location in 2011.
The Olveras’ stores “focus on products you can’t find in other stores,” Olvera said, specifically Hispanic goods. With the added space in the new store, they plan to sell products from other countries as well as expand their ready-to-eat options. “Our customers tell us what they want,” he laughed, including his own recommendation, barbacoa. A big draw is the full-service meat counter with homemade chorizo, seasoned fajita meats, and Mexican staples including tongue and thinly cut carne asada.
Shoppers also can cash checks, wire money, ship packages and buy novelties, games, candles and other items found in shops throughout Mexico.
Olvera Enterprises employs more than 75 people, with more than three-quarters of them working full time and receiving benefits. One employee has been there since the beginning 15 years ago. All the employees just got raises and the company holds (at least) two parties a year. “They work really hard,” Olvera said, “and we really appreciate them.” Supermercado Mexico is in the process of hiring 30 more people to work in the new store.
Javier Olvera remains active in the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. He’s currently on the steering committee for the Grand Rapids Master Plan and was recently awarded the Augila (Eagle) Lifetime Achievement Award from his alma mater, Ferris State University.