Kia Patterson, 36, is making history.
“I’m the owner/operator of your Compton Grocery Outlet,” is her main identifier these days.
As far as the people of Compton, California, know, she’s the first black owner of a big box grocery store. This is a big deal for a city with one of the highest concentrations of black people in Southern California, if not the country.
“I never could’ve conceptualized this, or even dream it if I had to,” says Patterson.
The Compton native started working in grocery stores in high school. First, sweeping the floors. She worked her way up. Now, she’s still sweeping the floors because she insists on being part of the team she leads, but she’s also the official franchisee running this location of Grocery Outlet, a regional chain of stores.
“Grocery has been my entire background ever since I had a job,” Patterson tells me.
She was with Smart & Final for 17 years before being poached by Grocery Outlet to lead their Compton location. And this is a big deal for her and the community, she’ll tell you.
“Usually, when a store’s in a low-income community, [there’s] this perception where they don’t think those people actually want good food,” says Patterson. “And the fact that Grocery Outlet has something good to offer them—organics at up to 40 to 70 percent off anywhere else—that’s phenomenal.”
When you ask her about the meaning and symbolism behind a black woman running a grocery store in Compton, she admits she’s proud, but she’s even prouder of the produce she’s bringing to Compton, which has long been considered a food desert.
Grocery Outlet prides itself on carrying organic and gluten-free offerings for a fraction of what they cost at other big box retailers. And people from across the country are taking notice. While I was interviewing Patterson, a customer came up to her.
“We’re from Indiana,” she said, pointing to the young man accompanying her. “So I read about it on Facebook, and I was like, ‘I just want to come and say something.'”
“Thank you, thank you,” says Patterson.
Another customer tells me that her mom lives 20 minutes away and insist on going of her way to come and shop with Kia. “She’s like, ‘This young lady, she’s doing it. We have to support her if we want to keep her around.”
Kia has every intention to stay around but also to give back to the city where she grew up. In a few weeks, she’ll be holding a back-to-school event with giveaways for local kids.
“That’s my biggest focus,” she says. “Continuing to help the community. Continue to be involved. And I just hope that I stick around.”