Food and family

Food and family

How does Nugget Market, a family-run chain of grocery stores headed by Eric Stille ’81, wind up on the FORTUNE magazine list of the 100 Best Companies to work for in America—two years in a row? In the words of FORTUNE, it’s with “rah-rah spirit, good pay and benefits, plus a rockin’ end-of-year bash.” That adds up to a ranking of No. 13 in the nation according to the magazine. Ask Stille, and he credits the Nugget employees with creating an award-winning work environment. “People are our best asset,” he says. “They create the magic.”

Stille started working in his family’s grocery store at the age of 14. He’s the fourth generation of his family to carry on the tradition; the first Nugget Market was founded by his great-grandfather and grandfather in Woodland, Calif., in 1926. Family remembers recall that Grandfather Mack went out of his way to foster a positive work environment and to treat everyone equally. “There is only one race,” he would say, “the human race.”

Building on the family’s experience, Stille became the first in his family to earn a four-year degree. He majored in finance at SCU, and he credits Santa Clara for shaping his leadership style.

How does that style play out in practice? “Even the baggers benefit,” Fortune noted in 2006. “There’s no premium for full health insurance, family coverage is $1 a week, and employees are offered a pension plus a 401(k) plan.”

It was also at Santa Clara that Stille met Kate Riley ’81, who later became his wife. Kate is now director of marketing for Nugget Market—which Stille took over as president and CEO in 1987.

The Nugget empire now comprises some dozen stores in northern California. Step inside a typical store and you’ll be greeted by displays of gleaming rosy plums, softly fuzzed peaches, crisp, leafy greens—and, from the baking ovens, the aroma of artisan breads laced with olives, walnuts, and asiago. Marinated meats, fresh fish, and poultry sizzle on the grill.

“Eric doesn’t really like to cook himself,” Kate confesses. “He is a big fan of our ready-to-go, chef-prepared entrees and side dishes—along with a good bottle of wine, of course!”

Aside from business, Stille’s other passion is his family. He and Kate have raised their three children in Davis. Will this next generation carry forward the Nugget family business? Stille says it is too soon to tell, but daughter Stephanie is a senior at SCU, majoring in business. —Karol Kafka

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