Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez, matriarch of the family that created, owns, and operates the Northgate Gonzalez supermarket chain — one of the largest Latino grocers in the United States — has passed away. She was 90.

Doña Teresa (as everyone in the company called her) was the silent force behind one of the great, untold immigrant economic success stories in Southern California over the past 40 years. Starting from a small downtown Anaheim storefront in 1980, Northgate Gonzalez now has 42 stores across Southern California, from San Diego to Culver City, El Monte to Long Beach. OC Weekly described their newest Anaheim location as “a Mexican-food Disneyland” for its aisles of fresh food and its taco bar; First Lady Michelle Obama praised Northgate at the 2012 opening of their Inglewood store for “bringing fresh, healthy, affordable food into communities that need it most.”

And it all started with Doña Teresa.

Northgate in downtown Santa Ana.

She was born in Jalostotitlán, Jalisco (shortened to “Jalos” or “Xalos” by residents) in 1927, into a family of grocers. Teresa married Miguel Gonzalez Jimenez; they had 13 children together. He ran a successful shoe factory until it burned to the ground in 1952, which forced Don Miguel and two sons to join a Xalos contingent at the Biltmore Hotel.

‘He didn’t really have any vices. His only vice was work.’

“With her husband gone, Teresa struggled to be both mother and father to her 10 children in Mexico at a time when women didn’t run households,” said a 2003 profile of Don Miguel in the Orange County Register, the only full story on him ever published in the English-language press, and the only time Doña Teresa was ever quoted in an American newspaper.

She told reporter Valeria Godines of her husband, “He didn’t really have any vices. His only vice was work.”

The entire Gonzalez clan finally migrated to Southern California in 1976, first settling in La Mirada to be near the huge Xalos community in Anaheim. At the urging of Miguel Jr., the family bought a liquor store off Anaheim Boulevard until a late-night hold-up changed their plans. “My mother decided to close early and not sell any more alcohol,” recalled Northgate co-president Oscar Gonzalez in an interview. “She replaced the product with vegetables and legumes and introduced a meat department, transforming the business into a small market.”

They kept the liquor store’s name, Northgate Market, because the family didn’t have the funds at the time to change the marquee. By the time they had enough, the Northgate name was so ingrained into the Latino Orange County mind that the company decided to keep it, adding a “Gonzalez” later on.

Jalisco connections

Northgate González was at the forefront of a wave of Latino supermarket chains that  spread across Southern California during the 1980s, nearly all run by immigrants from Jalisco.

Doña Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez in 2009.

In the Inland Empire, the big chain became Cardenas Market, founded by the late Jesus Cardenas; in Los Angeles, the meros meros were Vallarta Market, whose owners were cousins of the Northgate Gonzalez clan. Other jalisciences ran smaller chains like La Rioja and La Reina in Orange County and numerous other mom-and-pop mercados across SoCal.

In case you’re wondering: Superior Grocers wasn’t founded by Mexicans but rather Korean immigrant Mimi Song, who still runs it.

Don Miguel died in 1999 at age 76. Doña Teresa didn’t make many public appearances once Northgate really took off, but was there in 2009 for the groundbreaking of the company’s 22-acre depot in Anaheim, near the 5 and 91 freeways.

She got a shoutout for her 90th birthday last year from Anaheim-area Congressman Lou Correa, who remarked from the floor of Congress, “Her leadership of Northgate Market has allowed her family to serve the larger Latino population of Southern California, providing affordable and quality foods and services at over thirty locations and offering a taste of home for the many families that visit Northgate Market with Latino products, culture, and language.”

A private funeral was held April 10 at Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Habra. Northgate did not return a request for comment.

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