Cathie Anderson

Cathie Anderson: Rancho Murieta’s Plaza Foods goes gourmet, online under new owner

Cathie Anderson
Cathie Anderson

The new owner of Plaza Foods in Rancho Murieta is using the 26-year-old supermarket as a springboard to expand her online sales of groceries.

Machelle Lewallen took the keys to the store on Dec. 31 from the family who built it – Bob and Letitia Sexton, their son Darin Sexton and their daughter Michelle Hubbell. Many Elk Grove residents may recall Lewallen as the woman who founded and ran Sheldon Farms Gourmet Market & More on Grant Line Road. Lewallen closed the business in 2006 after 10 years of building a customer base and moved it to the Internet, renaming it

“I spent 15 years in high tech, so dot-com was a natural migration for me,” said Lewallen, who had worked as a finance manager for a technology company.

For logistical reasons, Lewallen and her husband, Paul Emmerich, looked for a place in the center of the country to open a warehouse. They chose Tyler, Texas, and moved there. They had just begun to expand into shipping general groceries when Emmerich died in 2011.

“I decided with the recession and everything, people were going to look for cost-effective means to shop,” Lewallen said. “So we included groceries. Ironically, the grocery orders are more now than the gourmet, and it will continue to grow.”

Emmerich’s death caused Lewallen to take stock of her life and business, and she decided to return to an area where she had a network of friends and business associates. She began to look for a business that would dovetail nicely with her online gourmet foods business, and she found it at Murieta Plaza Foods. She can retail the gourmet foods that were so popular with her local customers at the brick-and-mortar store, and the store’s inventory can be shipped to online customers.

Plaza Foods wasn’t up for sale when Lewallen approached the Sextons, but the family had been thinking of looking for an exit strategy. The store’s founders are in their 70s, and 48-year old Darin and 50-year-old Michelle were ready to try new things after 36 years at what they call the “College of Bob.” Their profitable store was attractive to Lewallen because of its 36 well-trained staff members and about 750 sales a day.

The Sextons say their success came from listening to customers and making many of the adjustments that were recommended. Lewallen said she’ll do the same, and she’ll add things that were a hit with customers at Sheldon Farms.

Passing the test

A change in the GED test put the staff and volunteers at Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services through their paces as 2013 came to a close. On Jan. 2, the GED Testing Service unveiled a new exam that creators say will measure whether applicants are prepared not only for college but also for a career in today’s job market.

“We’ve known of this change for a while,” said Genevieve Deignan, the food bank’s programs director. “They started talking about it like two years ago, so anyone who had previously passed a section from the current version needed to pass all five by the end of (last) year, or they needed to start from scratch with the new test version. We pumped out a lot of students in the past four months.”

For students who weren’t quite ready, Deignan, her six adult education staff and roughly 65 volunteers took them aside and told them to wait until 2014 to begin the testing. Besides the GED classes, the food bank’s adult education programs also offer classes in English as a second language and computer skills. In 2012, classrooms in Oak Park and North Sacramento served 2,318 individuals. Deignan saw a huge surge in demand that year that she attributes to people wanting to get in before the new GED test and greater access to computers at the new Education and Technology Center at 3333 Third Ave.

Because of faithful volunteers, the adult education program was able to offer about 49,000 hours of service in 2012 on a budget of just $330,000. That was about 9 percent of the food bank’s overall budget.

Coloring your world

Sacramento residents are seeing the City Hall garage at 10th and I streets in a different light, thanks to the work of Peters Engineering, Otto Construction and Garrahan Electric.

As part of a $1.2 million renovation of the parking structure, the contractors installed lights and programmable controls that allow city staff to bathe the 20-year-old building’s exterior in different hues. For instance, at Christmas, the garage twinkled in shades of red and green.

“The idea was to bring interest to the building,” said Chuck Pasillas of Peters Engineering. “As you know, they have events that happen in the adjacent park, the Cesar Chavez Park, and the colors make it more festive. It’s an area where people gather, and we want the building to have interest, and that was the reason for our approach on the lighting design.”

It isn’t solely for the amusement of visitors, however, Pasillas said, because the city hopes that a more attractive and identifiable look will attract new tenants to the building’s first-floor retail spaces. There’s 13,641 square feet available.

“The city of Sacramento has been largely housing their different groups in that building, in the actual retail space of that building,” Pasillas said, “so there hasn’t been a real need to draw interest to that building until now. They’ve moved out and they want to be able to lease out the retail space.”