Five Star Foods
For Randy Weiss, president and CEO of Five Star Foods in Knox, Indiana, the grocery business has been not only a career path, but a lifelong devotion. March 2015 marked 40 years in the industry for Weiss and 50 years for the family-owned store that offers a full-service meat department and deli, as well as produce and a new line of organic and gluten-free items.
Weiss’ mother and father owned and operated another Five Star Food location in the years preceding their son’s birth. “I was literally born into the business,” recounts Weiss. “My mother’s water broke while she was running the cash register at the original Five Star Foods my parents owned on the west side of Gary, Indiana. For years growing up, we lived just a few blocks down the road from the store.”
A family tradition
In the late 1920s, Weiss’ father, Art Weiss, came to the United States as a Hungarian immigrant in the fourth grade. “When he came to this country he had to start over in school and he eventually decided to stop his schooling before completing the fifth grade,” shares Weiss. “Back then it was difficult for Jewish people like my father to get a job, unless a family member already worked somewhere. Through a family friend, he started his career cleaning meat blocks for 75 cents per week. Eventually he became a meat cutter. But the war interrupted everything. At the very beginning of World War II, he joined the service.”
Serving in World War II, Art was part of the Black Devils, a commando unit. “Actually, his group, the First Special Service Forces, later birthed the Green Berets, Delta Force and even the Navy SEALs,” says Weiss. “He was a war hero. After his service he returned to Gary and the meat business, opening the first Five Star Foods store in 1947 with my mother, Sylvia Weiss.”
Weiss’ parents opened a second store in East Gary, but a fire destroyed the building around 1958. “My father tried to build on another piece of land but the insurance from the fire was taking too long to resolve, so he ended up selling the site,” he says. “He had also opened a larger store in La Porte, Indiana.”
Weiss went to work at the store in 1975, although he had been working for his father since the 1960s. “He fired me in 1968 when I refused to get a haircut,” says Randy. “After that, I was determined that I would never go back to the food business, but 40 years later, here I am.”
Finding the right path
Weiss admits he was a bit of a wayward young man and it wasn’t always smooth sailing for him growing up. “I was rebellious and I had a rocky relationship with my parents at first,” he shares. In 1965, Weiss joined a rock band and eventually started using heavy drugs.
In 1973, after cutting his first record, he eloped with a young Italian girl. “Within a few weeks after our honeymoon, she left me,” shares Weiss. But somewhere on the wrong path, Weiss began to see the direction he needed to take his life, through God and Jesus Christ.
“I was called to Christ and ministry,” he says. “Being from a Jewish family, no one had ever told me who Jesus was and I was unaware of my actions and their ramifications, but I had a revelation and I knew that with God’s help, my life could turn around.”
Weiss went to study with the rabbis to satisfy his parent’s wishes and to repair his relationship with them. He earned a master’s of science in Jewish Studies from a well-respected Jewish institution. His Jewish connection to Christianity led to three undergraduate degrees, two master’s degrees and two doctorates.
Despite the affirmation Weiss made to never return to the food business, his newfound sense of purpose led him back to the grocery industry in 1975. “I purchased the Five Star Foods Store in La Porte in 1983," he says. "A couple of years later I purchased the current store which had been in business in Knox since 1964.We just celebrated our 50th year in the Knox business in 2014.”
Today, the nearly 40,000-square-foot store is a strong force in the community, serving customers with a full line of supermarket needs. “Our meat department has always been the forte of business, but we have a full range of supermarket items including a bakery, deli and an excellent fresh produce department,” says Weiss.
A trusted team in place
The Knox-based Five Star Foods employs 50 people, who Weiss says really make the business shine. “I actually reside in Texas, but I’m in daily communication with the store and travel there monthly to oversee the operations,” he says. “To do this though, I need a trusted team. My right-hand man has been working with me at the store for the last 38 years and the rest of my staff is truly tremendous. At Five Star Foods, our people are our greatest asset. Everyone knows there’s nothing more valuable than a loyal employee. We have a remarkable long-term team with many people having worked together 20, 30, even 40 years on the same corner and still going strong.”
Since taking over Five Star Foods, Weiss says the store has undergone considerable expansion and updates to stay abreast with changing technology. “We’re in the process of replacing our barcode scanning this August,” he says. “Our first scanning system was installed in 1981, but as technology changes, we’re looking to be prepared for what’s next.”
In addition to infrastructure and technology improvements, Five Star Foods is constantly bringing on new products and the items customers expect to find in a modern supermarket. “We’ve added new organic and gluten-free products and a wide variety of dollar-items to be more competitive,” adds Weiss. “We’ve also recently expanded our nonfoods offerings such as household goods, gift shop items and affordable toys.”
At the end of the day, Weiss’ faith and commitment to serving others carries on through the business and into the greater Knox community. “Our county is a blue-collar county with a historically higher unemployment rate than the rest of state,” explains Weiss. “This has been a struggle and a lot of people have a hard time making ends meet, so we do our best to try to help by working with schools, civic groups, churches and more; we’re a committed member of the local community.”
Five Star Foods continues its mission of serving its customers and the community backed by Weiss’ mission to help others.