Celebrity chefs along the lines of Julia Child used to put on cooking displays for patrons in this South Pasadena specialty market. In fact, to this day, if a patron wants to know how to prepare a meal, one of the trained staff will lend a hand. Sometimes they will even do the cooking right there in Bristol Farms at 606 Fair Oaks Ave.
“Just the other day, a woman wished we would cook her fish for her,” Rodney Melillo, store director for Bristol Farms, said while taking a break from his busy schedule. “So, I offered to do it and one of our people put the fish on the grill and prepared it for her. She loved it.”
Bristol Farms has been at its present location since 1986 and store employees regard their customers as neighbors and family.
“I know a lot of the customers and I’ve known them for years,” Melillo said.
According to Melillo, every day at the store is different. He referred to shopping at Bristol Farms as almost a theatrical experience. This view is wholly in-line with the chain’s Mission Statement on bristolfarms.com, which states, “Our stores are the ‘Theatre of Retail.’” It goes on to indicate that the core values are “to sell the best tasting, freshest food available…we are friendly, passionate, and knowledgeable people.”
The beginnings of Bristol Farms date back to 1982. It was named after a street in West Los Angeles and the word “Farms” was added to emphasize freshness and homemade quality. The first store in Rolling Hills Estates was relatively small at 17,800 square feet; it was followed four years later by a larger store in South Pasadena at 22,500 square feet, according to the website. Since then, Bristol Farms has continued to grow its footprint size and locations—adding ten more stores around Los Angeles and Orange County and in La Jolla and Palm Desert. While Bristol Farms’ commitment to quality, freshness and service is unchanged, each store has a unique and distinct feel designed to reflect and serve the community in which it is located. This strategy has resulted in the chain collecting a long list of accolades since its first store opened from both professional organizations as well as individual customers.
According to Melillo, Bristol Farms takes its community involvement seriously and makes a concerted effort to support local charities in addition to national ones such as City of Hope and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It is a great source of pride for employees of the South Pasadena store.
Melillo said he’s most proud when Bristol Farms gives the customer a unique shopping experience that is unmatched elsewhere.
“I think giving the best experience to people that we can, is when I am the most satisfied” he said. “We really want shopping to be a special occasion and we want their visit to be something out of the ordinary.” As an example, a customer could be enjoying a meal from the Bristol Café when an employee walks by with a platter full of spicy tuna rolls.
“We’ll offer some to the customer,” he said. “Or you may be standing in our produce department and the produce clerk or even I will say ‘Hey have you ever tried the new lemon-drop melon? It’s a new hybrid melon.’ We’re likely to offer things spontaneously or oftentimes we will send something home with a customer to try.”
Melillo also said the guiding principal behind the food is fresh, organic and local.
“Our food is the freshest,” he said. “Let me tell you something, a lot of professional chefs do their shopping here for their restaurants. That’s when you know you are doing it right. Our fish is the freshest and our meat is aged right here on-site.”
A misconception, though, is that Bristol Farms is a “snooty market,” Melillo said.
“There’s nothing farther from the truth,” he said. “We have people on fixed incomes that come in here every day. We have a lot of retired people. This is a market for everybody.”
Bristol Farms is located at 606 Fair Oaks Ave. in South Pasadena. Store hours are 7:00 am – 10:00 pm. (626) 441-5450
The Bristol Farms Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 7.27.18.