Felix Chavez had two goals in life - to have a successful business and to make a better life for his family.
In a small town south of Pharr, a mom and pop store was built on a small 12x16-foot dirt floor. The year was 1978 and the store, located in Las Milpas, began with humble beginnings — selling sodas, chips and barbacoa on Sundays. Chavez’ vision for his store was to serve the community on a larger scale. With the experience he gained working at other grocery store chains like H-E-B and Valley Mart, he was able to make his dream a reality and created Junior’s Supermarket.
Now, with six supermarkets and two express stores, including a new supermarket that opened in Hidalgo late last year, Chavez has accomplished his dream.
A one-stop shop, the store is where one can visit the deli and order food from the full restaurant menu, grab Mexican bread from the bakery, enjoy a cup of fruit or a slice of Mexican candy or spend a few minutes watching the flour tortilla maker make fresh tortillas daily.
Chavez said Junior’s is different from other supermarkets because his stores are all in strategic locations, offer personal service, and are locally owned and operated. Chavez uses local distributors and buys products from local companies whenever possible. Each store varies in size, the smallest is 13,000 square feet and the largest is 38,000 square feet.
Chavez was born in Weslaco, but spent part of his early childhood living in Mexico. By the age of 13 his family left Mexico and returned to the United States making the Pharr and San Juan area their home.
Later they would become migrant workers and go up north to work in the fields every year. After high school, he attended Pan American College and obtained 60 college credit hours.
Chavez began working at H-E-B food stores as a bagger and was there for three years. By 1971, the opportunity to become a manager of Valley Mart in Pharr came and he took it. Five years later he became a supervisor.
With the experience he had gained in the grocery business, he knew he too could operate his own store and so by 1978 he opened his first small store. The service station, which had previously been a tire repair shop, had dirt floors and wooden frames. They by started selling sodas, chips, and barbacoa on Sundays. His wife, who had never worked before, became a cashier for the store.
Chavez said his wife was instrumental in the growth of the company. She has been his business partner since 1978. “She had never worked before, and she joined me in my venture. We now work side by side every day,” he said.
“She began as a cashier and now oversees the daily operations. I say she is the comptroller of the business,” Chavez said jokingly.
While his fledgling store was getting its start, he continued working at Valley Mart and after two years, left to work full-time at his own store. “I began to notice there was potential in the area because I started selling.”
Chavez named his store Junior’s for two reasons, after his late son and because the store he was starting off was smaller than a mega market, hence, the name fit the store. After a successful few years, Chavez decided to venture out and open another store. Within three years, the second store, located across the street from his first service station, had a meat department and a produce department. By 1983 he opened another Junior’s in Lopezville.
“It was a dream to start my own business. I had experience in the grocery business and that helped me,” he said.
Junior’s grocery stores pride themselves in their fresh meat market. Their slogan, “Our Meat makes the Difference,” lets customers know what sets them apart from the competition.
All grocery stores also have a customer service center where customers can pay bills or buy money orders.
“We try to give them a service — we collect bills from most companies, sell money orders, cash checks. A lot of services are offered to make it easier on our customers,” Chavez said. “A lot of people don’t even need to go to the bank or in to town to get what they need.”
Junior’s supermarket employs over 400 people, some of whom have been with the company for over 20 years. Chavez said their commitment and dedication is a key factor to Junior’s success. The company offers its employees the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and attain a higher status in the business world. By keeping employees satisfied, they are able to help Junior’s continue their success.
To show his appreciation for his employees, Chavez surprised some of his long-time employees with a seven-day Caribbean cruise that included stops in Cozumel and Jamaica.
“To celebrate our employees that had been working with us for more than 20 years we took them on a cruise. It was about 12 of our employees,” he said.
Chavez begins his day by checking in at the office to making sure everything is running smoothly.
“We oversee everything, every day. We try to stay on top of what is going on in the industry, at a local and national level,” he said. Chavez also makes it a point to visit a different store each day of the week.
Chavez enjoys traveling and has gone to different countries including the Mediterranean, Europe and Mexico with his wife of 38 years, Maria Ines. Both are contributing members of the community. Chavez attended the Bible Academy in San Juan for three years and is now a minister and a Bible instructor at Cristo de Roca. His hobbies include hunting and cooking for his family and friends.
“It is fun to do something that you really like. It brings satisfaction from seeing people grow within the organization and prosper and also see our customers come in and they bring their families,” Chavez said.
The Chavezes are the proud parents of three daughters — Julissa, Elizabeth, Judith and their late son, Felix Jr. They also have 11 grandchildren.
Junior’s Supermarkets are located in Lopezville, San Juan, Las Milpas, Alton, Hidalgo, Edinburg and a Jr.’s Express in San Juan and another in Pharr.