Mountain Character: Cook found the right recipe at El Jebel City Market | AspenTimes.com
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Mountain Character: Cook found the right recipe at El Jebel City Market

Trent Cook's last day as manager of the El Jebel City Market is today. He's transferring to a grocery store in Arizona after 20 years.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

Trent Cook probably knows as much as anyone about the eating habits of Roaring Fork Valley residents, at least for another day.

Cook has been manager of the El Jebel City Market for 20 years and joined the supermarket the year after it opened. He’s leaving the job today, transferring within Kroger Co. to manage a Fry’s Food and Drug store in Phoenix.

It’s tough to leave the co-workers who are almost like family and the many customers that he’s built a bond with, he said, but he’s eager to leave Colorado winters behind.

“I’ve done it for 57 years,” he said. “I’m over winter,”

Cook said he’s been trying to let the customers whom he’s bonded with know that he’s leaving, but he won’t be able to personally say goodbye to all of them.

“I appreciate the support of the community in making me successful,” he said. “I would like to thank our community for all their support over the years and allowing me to serve them and be a part of their families.”

Top grossing store

The El Jebel City Market opened in 1995. Cook arrived as manager in April 1996 after working as a store manager in Price, Utah, for two years. (He got his first job with City Market in 1975.)

“At the time I came here it was their flagship store,” he said of the El Jebel market. The original 53,000-square-foot store replaced a confined space in Basalt.

Kroger felt the El Jebel store had the potential to be the top grossing City Market outlet, and it hasn’t been a disappointment. It was so successful over its first decade that 10,000 square feet was added in 2005.

The store attracts customers from Aspen to Parachute, Cook said. “People come up for the variety,” Cook said. The valley’s clientele also demands organic and gluten-free foods.

The store pulls in 22,000 to 23,000 customers per week, Cook said. He didn’t want it disclosed exactly what percentage of customers are Hispanic; it’s between one-third and one-half.

It requires 30 tractor-trailers per week to keep the store’s shelves stocked. When full, the store’s inventory can last three or four days.

Friday through Monday are in the running for the busiest day of the week, with the peak day changing any given week, Cook said.

The opening of Whole Foods Market in Willits Town Center in August 2012 definitely cut into City Market’s business, Cook said, though he declined to discuss specifics.

The stores combined to produce about $70 million in sales in 2015, according to information extrapolated from town of Basalt sales tax data.

Retail foods sales accounted for $2.06 million in sales tax for the town last year. That’s about 44 percent of the town’s total, emphasizing the importance of the grocery stores to Basalt’s economy.

Never at full employment

The store requires between 130 and 160 full-time employees, but it’s never been fully staffed in the 20 years Cook has been there, not even during the Great Recession. He said the closest it’s been to fully staffed was six employees short.

Cook said he’s been short as many as 30 workers over his two decades at the store. This summer the store was short 25 employees.

Despite that, the staff includes many longtime employees.

“Among my department heads, most of them have been here for 20 years,” he said. Between 20 and 30 workers transferred over from the Basalt City Market when it closed and El Jebel opened.

Cook said he “loves seeing associates grow” while working at the store. He views his role as helping his workers thrive and creating an environment where they want to be. That leads to good service and satisfied customers.

“I don’t look at myself as their boss,” he said. “I consider myself their leader.”

Goodbye bash

Cook and his friends are throwing a goodbye party at the Glenwood Brew Pub at 6 this evening. Among those attending will be the managers at the City Market stores in Dillon, Craig, Steamboat Springs, Eagle and Grand Junction — all of whom he mentored when they worked for him in El Jebel.

Victor Avila, the current store manager in Vail, is taking the helm in El Jebel. Cook said he and Avila are “a lot alike” in their managerial approaches.

Cook, 57, aims to work for seven or eight more years, then retire. He is a native of western Colorado, so his dream retirement scenario is to return to the state for summers and spend winters in Arizona.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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