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Five decades of growth for Latino business leader

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CHICAGO — WGN is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month with a look at a Chicago-made success story.

What started as a small produce shop has become one of the city’s most prominent Latino markets

The man behind the empire is 70-year-old Jose Jimenez, who at 19, arrived from Mexico. He worked three jobs to make ends meet but took a leap and opened a produce shop. Over the next last decades, the business grew, along with many of Chicago’s Latino neighborhoods.

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“It was ‘Fruteria Jimenez,’ that was the name of the business and then he eventually changed it to ‘Carniceria Jimenez’ because what became a fruit stand, he added a butcher department, and little by little, over the years, we’ve grown,” said son Jose Jimenez III.

From one shop to now eight in Illinois and more than 400 employees, Jimenez says it’s a far cry from when he first opened.

“I can’t forget because we sold $17 the whole day,” he said.  

The following year, the shop was selling $4,000 in a single weekend.

Jimenez’s American success story has gotten much attention lately as the patriarch of the brand was recognized for a lifetime of work. It can all be traced back to a small piece of paper – a receipt hanging in his office to this day.

Dated in 1975, it’s the year someone offered to sell him a produce shop for $3,000. Jimenez didn’t have all the money but agreed to pay the remaining balance over time.

“We are talking 1975, many years ago. We don’t sign any papers,” Jimenez said. “He just said, ‘the store is going to be yours.’”

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In a matter of years, the Jimenez shops took off.

“When I made the stores a little bigger, I put meat and groceries,” Jimenez said.

By 1980, then Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne was cutting the ribbon at a new location.

“There is not a single day that I don’t come to work and say, ‘wow,’ knowing his background, knowing that he crossed the border on his own with nothing.” Jimenez’s son said.

But the success of his stores isn’t the sole reason for the recognition Jimenez has received lately. Time and time again, Jimenez has helped with recovery efforts after major disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2010, Jimenez sent $5,000 bags of food to Haiti after the earthquake.

It’s those acts of kindness that his family says made him stand out and over the decades, gain the respect of some of Chicago’s fastest-growing neighborhoods. 

“I love Chicago,” Jimenez said. “Chicago is a beautiful city. Chicago has a lot of things for everybody, not just for me.”  

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