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Immigrant Toasts Life of Freedom as a Retailer

Stepping in as a last-minute replacement for another speaker who canceled, Darioush Khaledi, chairman and chief executive officer, K.V. Mart, Los Angeles, gave a moving presentation on the final day of Food Marketing Institute’s Future Connect conference here on Wednesday.

Khaledi, a civil engineer by training, fled Iran in 1976 with his wife and two children for the freedom and opportunity of the U.S., and soon bought a run-down grocery store in Los Angeles.

“My first problem was I spoke no English,” he said. “My second problem was that I had no idea how to run a store.”

Noticing that the Mexican-American shoppers in the neighborhood were getting their Mexican food products from a mom-and-pop store across the street, Khaledi followed the delivery truck that delivered those products, and began buying from that supplier.

“We tripled our business in three months,” he said.

He followed that community-centric model as he expanded to what is now 25 locations, mostly in poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with one store each in Las Vegas and Utah.

“As companies vacated the inner city, it created opportunities,” he said. “We invested in cleaning up the stores and new equipment.”

The company also invests in the community – it hires at local unemployment offices and has put many of its 2,000 workers through the Dale Carnegie leadership training program.

Khaledi, who also owns a respected winery in Napa, Calif., said he likes to make his workers feel appreciated. He has nearly every employee’s birthday recorded in his calendar, and the company tries to celebrate those occasions with cakes and a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

“Recognition goes a long way in having a great team,” he said.