The Calandro family has been a name in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, grocery business since 1941 when owners Brazil and Vennera Calandro opened the first small corner store, originally named the Plee-zing Food Store, at 4142 Government Street. Three generations later, the family name and signature business remain strong in two Calandro’s Supermarket (Calandro’s) locations, including the original Government Street location.
Blaise Calandro Jr., president and CEO of Calandro’s, grew up in his family’s grocery store alongside his brothers Sonny, Charles and Mark.
“When we were young we lived in the rear of the store building,” Blaise recalls. “It was so close that in the morning we would wake up to the hum of the activity in the front of the store. We eventually moved into a larger cinder-block house built a few feet behind the store and my brothers and I went to work, earning $1 a day stocking shelves, racking bottles, bagging and cashiering.”
Honoring a family tradition
“Eventually, I started doing maintenance and repairs and I worked summers through college while I earned my degree in engineering,” tells Blaise. After a 25-year career as an engineer, Blaise came back to Calandro’s in 1993 to help run the family business and real estate partnership after his parents were involved in a fatal traffic accident.
Even though Brazil and Vennera passed away, Blaise and his brothers are still heavily involved in Calandro’s, managing, purchasing and sometimes even sweeping and stocking like they grew up doing, but most importantly, still extending the family feel and customer service to the Baton Rouge community.
“In 1997, we started searching for a second store,” recounts Blaise. “We cut a deal in what we felt was a great new location in 1999 and by 2000 we opened our second Calandro’s at 12732 Perkins Road to accommodate customers in South Baton Rouge.”
The neighborhood store
Calandro’s Perkins has been a huge success, recently celebrating its 14-year anniversary. “I think what really sets Calandro’s apart is that we’ve remained a friendly, family-run local operation that loves and promotes our Baton Rouge and Louisiana roots,” Blaise says proudly. “And in the case of our original location, we’re still a neighborhood store that people can, and regularly do, walk to. That’s few and far between in Baton Rouge now.”
Both Calandro’s locations focus on the complete shopping experience in service, quality and selection. “We offer a cozy family feel on the customer service end, plus more specialty and gourmet items than you can imagine, along with the basics to make for a complete shopping trip,” details Blaise. “Our motto is: ‘service, quality and selection’ and it really sums up what we do.”
Superior customer service, quality and selection
Customer service is the No. 1 priority for Calandro’s. “We make people feel at home in our store - as if they’re part of our family,” explains Blaise “Trey” Calandro III, Blaise’s son and an assistant manager at Calandro’s. “We’re easily the quickest checkout in town and we have a true ‘the customer is always right’ attitude from general customer service to special orders and requests to a very customer-oriented return policy. As an example, we started offering charge accounts for our customer to make purchases on Calandro’s credit well before credit cards existed. And even with the ubiquity of plastic today, we still maintain a very loyal charge account group of customers today.”
Priority 1-A on Calandro’s radar is the quality of its offerings, especially perimeter areas, such as produce, deli, bakery, meat, gourmet cheese, dairy, wine, liquor and beer. “We maintain the highest quality product that you will find in our area,” says Trey. “We are experts with long-standing relationships with local farmers and vendors on staple items and specialty products and it shows in our stores with outstanding freshness and quality and a variety that’s simply unrivaled anywhere around us.”
Calandro’s stocks USDA Prime Beef from full tenderloins to individual cuts. “We will make special cuts just the same as a specialty butcher shop with some of the best butchers in south Louisiana,” shares Trey. “We also have an award-winning bakery that prepares local specialties, such as King Cakes, a key item that bakeries in south Louisiana are measured on.”
The third important factor for Calandro’s is selection, something the family-run stores are notorious for. “Calandro’s, for many years, has been known for our incredibly large selection,” tells Trey. “We carry all the staple grocery products from big brand names, so you’re not limited to only specialty shopping, but then we offer the largest selection of products and SKUs in the area in gourmet, highly local and international products. We also lead the way in all three major categories of spirits with, by far, the widest, most well-known domestic and international wine craft beer and liquor selection in South Louisiana.”
“Generally our products reach the Baton Rouge metropolitan area, but we do have some regular clients that come here regularly from several neighboring states for our quality and specialty products,” continues Trey.
A longstanding landmark
The fourth and perhaps most distinguishing factor is Calandro’s longstanding history in the Baton Rouge community. “We’ve been going strong and steady since 1941,” considers Blaise. “We’ve been at this for a long time and we’re very good at what we do. We know how to treat our customers right and we have built personal relationships, respect and quite a following over the years.”
As in any retail business, there’s constant change and progress at Calandro’s with ongoing refreshes and store updates. “While there’s always the possibility of a third location on the horizon, our goal for 2015 is to really focus on our original store,” says Blaise. “There’s been a bit of an urban revival in the downtown and mid-city areas of Baton Rouge, which is right where our original location has been for … going on 74 years. Our intention is to participate in that revival, refreshing the properties we own and bringing new and exciting things to the store, right alongside the rebirth that our neighbors – both families and local businesses – are making.”
While change is part of the business, both locations remain committed to customer service, quality and selection, which have made Calandro’s Supermarkets a standout in Baton Rouge for well over 70 years.