The field general at Mollie Stone’s Market has fought his final battle in Burlingame.
After a career spanning 50 years in the grocery industry, which has culminated with him working roughly the last three decades at the independent grocery store at 1477 Chapin Ave., Mark Lucchesi is retiring Saturday, Jan. 30.
The beloved store manager with a propensity for eschewing the allure of administrative offices in favor of trawling the aisles amid his customers said he is ready to hang it up and spend more quality time with his family.
“It’s been a tremendous ride,” said Lucchesi, a 72-year-old native of Burlingame.
Lucchesi has likened his humble managerial style to that of a field general who would rather than take the initiative and complete the task at hand rather than direct troops from afar.
Lucchesi said in that role he has encountered a great many skirmishes over the years, first recalling the rivalry formed with the construction of a new downtown Safeway in Burlingame. Reflecting on initial fears that the titan’s competition would topple Mollie Stone’s, Lucchesi is proud of the way his independent outlet sustained itself.
About a decade after the new Safeway arrived in Burlingame, Lucchesi said the potential blood feud has since evolved into something more closely resembling a friendly rivalry.
But with almost two decades of work in the industry beyond his 28 years at Mollie Stone’s, Lucchesi has seen more than his fair share of grocery store wars. As a youngster, he took his first job out of college working for his father who owned two markets – Jim’s Super in Burlingame and Capuchino Market in Millbrae. Following his term in the family business, Lucchesi pivoted to working at Petrini’s before eventually matriculating to Mollie Stone’s.
He worked for a while at the company’s Palo Alto location but jumped at the opportunity to manage the Burlingame store when it opened in 1999, excited to take a job back in his hometown and work close to where he lived.
“It has been a real honor to live and work in the town I grew up in,” said Lucchesi.
That experience has been enhanced by the opportunity Mollie Stone’s provides to give back, said Lucchesi, who has established himself as a pillar of the local community. He won the Burlingame Lions Club Citizen of the Year Award in 2017 for his philanthropic endeavors.
Mollie Stone’s COO Steve Stamos expressed his appreciation for Lucchesi’s community focus in an email, while also admiring his dedication to the company and unfailing desire to improve the customer experience.
“He is an institution in that store and will be greatly missed,” said Stamos. The two have worked together since 1981, and both agreed to depart together from Petrini’s to join Mollie Stone’s in 1992.
Stamos also celebrated Lucchesi constantly looking for ways to make the store a better place for shoppers and employees.
“Always looking for the next ‘new product’ or idea. Mark is always trying new merchandising ideas. He treats his employees with the utmost respect. He is like a team coach, giving direction, working with the team giving lots of encouragement and suggestions on how things can be accomplished better,” said Stamos.
For his part, Lucchesi said he enjoys tracking the evolution of the grocery industry and is always looking for ways to stay up to date on the most recent trends, to assure the store offers items most sought by shoppers.
And while innate difficulties associated with managing a grocery store have presented hurdles, Lucchesi said he has never faced a career hardship as severe as COVID-19.
“It was a real challenging time,” he said.
There are professional issues presented by the pandemic such as assuring shelves are stocked, plus public health matters linked to protecting shoppers and staff from the threat of the virus, said Lucchesi, who credited Mollie Stone’s investment in health and sanitation measures to stop the spread of COVID-19.
There were personal obstacles to overcome as well, admitted Lucchesi, who was in the sensitive age group potentially vulnerable to virus exposure. But while he perhaps took a few shifts off at the onset of the pandemic, the field general ultimately determined he could not stand idle while his store needed him.
“I thought ‘this is a battle. I want to be here for this thing. I want to take it as far as I can,’” he said.
And he has. But after nearly one year of all-hands-on-deck battling preceded by a lifetime’s worth of work, the field general is ready to head home.
In his next chapter, Lucchesi plans to redouble his commitment to his wife Kathy who he said has sacrificed selflessly for years so he could be his best at work. To repay her, Lucchesi said he wants to travel, when health conditions allow, and give Kathy the attention she has deserved over the past few decades.
“I want to go back to being a husband, father and grandfather,” he said.