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She was the driving force behind one of the largest Latino grocers — and abuelita Tere to 53 grandchildren

She was the driving force behind one of the largest Latino grocers — and abuelita Tere to 53 grandchildren
Miguel Gonzalez Reynoso, co-president of the Northgate Gonzalez supermarkets, sits before a mural of his parents. He was the third-oldest child of matriarch Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

When it came time to say goodbye to Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez, nearly two dozen people squeezed into her Fullerton hospital room.

Still more waited in the hallway. And in a nearby lobby. And in a conference room, freed up by the hospital once the crowd reached nearly 100.

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"Doctors thought she was a celebrity," said her granddaughter Alicia Valadez.

No, said her family. This was abuelita Tere.

She had 13 children and 53 grandchildren and another 53 great-grandchildren. By the time she died last month at 90, she was the matriarch of a large, prosperous clan.

She and her husband, Miguel Gonzalez Jimenez, had come to California from the Mexican state of Jalisco with little money. But one small grocery store in Anaheim had grown to 40 up and down Southern California. Northgate Gonzalez Markets Inc., known for healthy, affordable food, had become one of the nation's largest Latino chains, reporting about $900 million in sales last year.

While he worked with their children in the stores, she was the force at home.

Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez was the matriarch of the family that launched the Northgate Gonzalez grocery chain. She loved a full house and hosted festive posadas every Christmas. When her grandchildren visited, she welcomed them with strawberries and cream.
Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez was the matriarch of the family that launched the Northgate Gonzalez grocery chain. She loved a full house and hosted festive posadas every Christmas. When her grandchildren visited, she welcomed them with strawberries and cream. (Family photo)

Doña Teresa was witty, bold and blunt.

Her children say she was born a guerrera, a warrior.

Teresa was 16 years old when she fell for Miguel, a young man with an impressive mustache. The son of ranchers lived a few blocks away from her in Jalostotitlán, Jalisco.

Their romance blossomed through a peephole in Teresa's front door. Her mother, Jesusita, would head to church after sunrise and Teresa would stand at the door and talk with Miguel.

One day Jesusita found his photo in Teresa's bedroom. She burned it and forbade her daughter from seeing him.

Teresa ended up marrying him anyway.

The two opened a shoe factory not far from the main plaza. La Elegancia stood two stories high and employed about 25 shoemakers.

One day, a worker forgot to turn off the petroleum stove used to heat the soles. The factory burned to the ground.

"My father used to say he was left with only 20 pesos," said their son Miguel Gonzalez Reynoso.

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The couple borrowed money and opened a second factory, but by the 1960s it was struggling. Miguel decided to go north with his two oldest sons.

Teresa stayed behind in Mexico for nearly 10 years, a single mother raising 10 children.

"You'd see a sadness in her eyes during those days," said daughter Teresa Alvarado.

Still, she rarely let her children see her cry.

Instead, she kept them busy — cooking, washing, cleaning, tending to a pig they used to stuff with leftovers, hopeful that one day he'd be plump enough to sell.

At some point, Teresa grew so desperate that she thought about asking the White House for help.

She wrote to President Lyndon B. Johnson: Please, reunite my family.

She never sent that letter. But for years, she kept it in her home, tucked under a statue of a saint.

The family of Northgate Gonzalez markets matriarch Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez meets for lunch at company headquarters in Anaheim. Debbie Gonzalez, center left, shares a laugh with her aunt Ana Rosa Gonzalez.
The family of Northgate Gonzalez markets matriarch Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez meets for lunch at company headquarters in Anaheim. Debbie Gonzalez, center left, shares a laugh with her aunt Ana Rosa Gonzalez. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Oscar, center right, and Ramon Gonzalez greet each other as they prepare for lunch. Ana Rosa Gonzalez is right. The 13 siblings have gathered weekly to eat together for more than 20 years.
Oscar, center right, and Ramon Gonzalez greet each other as they prepare for lunch. Ana Rosa Gonzalez is right. The 13 siblings have gathered weekly to eat together for more than 20 years. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In the United States, Miguel and his sons spent years working for others: welding iron, washing dishes and driving trucks.

In 1980, he decided to take a chance. By then, his family was reunited in the U.S. He and his third-oldest son, Miguel Gonzalez Reynoso, pooled their money and bought a 2,500-square-foot market in Anaheim.

The store came with a fitting name that would eventually become dear to the family: Northgate. Porton al norte.

Back then, they were stuck with it because they had no money to change the big sign.

Miguel used to bring home groceries from his market — bruised tomatoes, wrinkling corn, cuts of chicken and carne asada cast aside at the meat counter.

"Don't you have anything good in your store?" his wife would tease him.

"Yes," he'd say. "That's for the customers."

Their children tended to every detail of the business. Marco Antonio and Hector ran the meat department. Victor stocked the produce. Teresa, Ana Rosa and Estela manned the cash registers. Jesus, then the baby of the bunch, used to bring everyone lunch.

Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez rarely got involved with their work.

But as time passed and the stores multiplied, she offered her advice.

She was the family's peacemaker, uncompromising in her mission to keep her kin united.

Anytime there was a disagreement over business, she was called in to mediate. Her guidance was always the same: I don't know who's right, but you have to make up right now.

"Be careful," she would tell her son Miguel, the company's co-president. "Do not ever leave anyone out."

Over the years, her words as much as her husband's influenced every aspect of Northgate.

The family's patriarch died in 2009. The 13 siblings— who range in age from 48 to 71— are co-owners of the company. They receive the same salary, no matter the position, said the son who bears his father's first name.

Together, the children created a chain of markets that has been called the Disneyland of Mexican food.

They sell 3-foot-long chicharrones, handmade churros and lots of food Latinos want but can't always easily find.

Abuelita Tere was a particular fan of the carnitas.

Miguel Gonzalez Reynoso at his Northgate Gonzalez supermarket in Norwalk. He and his family created a chain of markets that has been called the Disneyland of Mexican food.
Miguel Gonzalez Reynoso at his Northgate Gonzalez supermarket in Norwalk. He and his family created a chain of markets that has been called the Disneyland of Mexican food. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

On a recent afternoon, the Gonzalez family gathered at company headquarters in Anaheim.

It was the first time since her death on April 5 that they had shared lunch in their private dining room.

Doña Teresa's children sat at one table.

Her grandchildren sat at another. (Thirty of them work at the company.)

All dressed in black, the grandchildren ate posole and traded stories about their abuela, immortalized with her husband in statues and murals all around the building.

Most of their memories centered on her home, a four-acre property in La Habra Heights spacious enough to fit all her family, her fruit trees and her birds, Bruno, Peanut and Guapo.

Everyone took turns visiting her house every day of the week: daughters, sons, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

The family of Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez at company headquarters. From left, Teresa Alvarado, Ana Rosa Gonzalez, Alicia Gonzalez, Ramon Gonzalez, Miguel Gonzalez, Jesus Gonzalez, Estela Ortiz, Maria Bolanos, Victor Gonzalez, Marco Antonio Gonzalez and Oscar Gonzalez.
The family of Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez at company headquarters. From left, Teresa Alvarado, Ana Rosa Gonzalez, Alicia Gonzalez, Ramon Gonzalez, Miguel Gonzalez, Jesus Gonzalez, Estela Ortiz, Maria Bolanos, Victor Gonzalez, Marco Antonio Gonzalez and Oscar Gonzalez. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

If someone didn't show up for some time, abuelita Tere would track them down.

"I don't know how she did it," Gutierrez said. "But she always knew what was going on in each of our lives."

Every Christmas, she made sure she had gifts not just for each of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren but for all of their spouses and sometimes even their spouses' parents.

"Christmas was the biggest day there," said granddaughter Andrea Gonzalez.

"Her birthday, too," said another granddaughter, Michelle Gutierrez. "That day was like a holiday for the whole family."

And Sundays, she expected everyone to attend Mass. They filled several pews at the front of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in La Habra.

When the priest would ask parishioners to turn to their neighbors and say, "Peace be with you," the family would form a line to greet the woman at the center of it all.

They repeated this ritual at the hospital. One by one, they touched her with blessed oil and sang her many songs, including her favorite, "Solamente Una Vez."

Only Once.

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Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez and her thirteen children. The family grew prosperous after launching 40 grocery stores in California. Still, she would often tell them, "It doesn't matter what you have. What matters is how you treat people."
Teresa Reynoso de Gonzalez and her thirteen children. The family grew prosperous after launching 40 grocery stores in California. Still, she would often tell them, "It doesn't matter what you have. What matters is how you treat people." (Family photo)
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