Growers Ranch to mark 45th year

When Rich and Peggy Penjoyan started out in the 1960s, they were working for peanuts — literally.

The couple sold the crunchy legumes from the back of a truck in Malibu Canyon, but the business plan wasn't working quite as well as Rich wanted.

So in 1969 he decided to set up shop in Costa Mesa, a recently minted city experiencing its teenage years — Sweet 16 — but already boasting a population of some 73,000.

It was the year Growers Ranch sprouted up along Newport Boulevard, back when traveling along the ol' Goat Hill thoroughfare had an open-air feel about it and the business felt like something you'd see on the side of the road while driving through farmland, Peggy recalled.

"A little veggie stand," she said with a smile.

It's been 45 years since those humble beginnings, and the produce store and its wholesale delivery division, Penjoyan Produce, are celebrating the milestone Saturday morning with a party, free samples and a birthday cake.

Part of that party was sprawled about the store's back office Thursday afternoon: gift baskets to be awarded to those who win the weekend raffle.

Elsewhere in the office — which was once the stand's parking lot, Peggy noted — are pictures of the early days, a picture of Rich, the files of paperwork that keep the business going day by day, year after year.

Rich and Peggy got married a few months after the store opened. He proposed to her there.

Rich said he didn't want to marry Peggy, then a teacher at Victoria Elementary School, until Growers Ranch was making at least $50 a day. The thought of that now makes Peggy laugh.

"So I was here every day, counting money," she said.

The Penjoyans are proud to say that Growers Ranch is still a family owned business. It remains true to its mom-and-pop roots: Rich and Peggy's son, Mike, is the company president; Mike's wife, Jenny, works there too. Their kids will be helping out this weekend.

The family tends to buy local and support fellow mom-and-pop enterprises while they're at it. They stress freshness, good prices and excellent service.

Growers Ranch, with its rustic and faintly Western theme, is awash with color and hand-drawn displays that note the products and prices.

"If you can think of any vegetable that we don't have, I'd be amazed," Peggy said.

There's a soundtrack to it all as well, with big band favorites and classic crooners like Frank Sinatra. Sometimes they'll play classic rock.

No rap, though.

Up until a few years ago, they kept sawdust on the floor. They're gonna bring it back out for the 45th anniversary.

Three generations of shoppers have relied on Growers Ranch. Local businesses do too, like Skosh Monahan's next door, the Newport Rib Co. on Harbor Boulevard and A Restaurant in Newport Beach.

Just about everything at Growers Ranch has grown since its inception: The employee roster went from just one on Day 1 to about 40 at Year 45; delivery expanded from one Ford van to a fleet of 15 trucks.

Of course, some things never change, like the trademark windmill on the roof, the free popcorn machine and, to a degree, one beloved employee: Marco Gomez.

Gomez has worked at Growers Ranch since 1978. He's an institution all his own, the heart of the store and a reliable fixture shoppers ask for by name. Often, he knows theirs too.

He's like Sam the butcher from "The Brady Bunch," Mike said.

Customers and Gomez will exchange hugs, catch up or chit-chat. He'll show them the best produce of the day.

"They come in and see Marco," Mike said. "He's their grocer."

If You Go

What: Growers Ranch celebrates its 45th anniversary

Where: 2016 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday

For more information: Call (949) 642-6025 or visit http://www.growersranch.com

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