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Alita Bezanis of Pete’s Fresh Market: A Family Business Putting People First

Alita Bezanis

Director of Organizational Development

Pete's Fresh Market

Alita Bezanis, Director of Organizational Development at Pete’s Fresh Market, is implementing people-centered hiring and training practices. Read on to learn more about how Pete’s has gone far beyond standard training practices, making sure to invest in people and their futures every step of the way.

What is your role at Pete's Fresh Market?

I am the Director of Organizational Development and a part of the leadership team. My

work has involved analyzing, defining, and then refining the company’s culture,

infrastructure and operations based on my professional and personal experiences.

My autonomous role, and the way Pete’s operates, has really resonated with me.

Having worked in various capacities; in corporate and mid-sized business settings,

along with owning a business myself for 23 years, I am profoundly committed to a

family-owned business like Pete’s.

Tell me about your first paid job. How old were you and what did you do?

My father immigrated here when he was 15 years old. Even though he came to a country where he didn’t know the language, he managed to establish himself and start a business, so I grew up helping him with daily operations and administrative work at a very young age. It wasn’t a paid job, but it shaped me into who I am today.

I worked in the restaurant industry of businesses owned by family friends and relatives throughout my teens. In college, I continued working in hospitality in addition to working for my uncle at his architectural firm. It was an opportunity for me to earn money, help family, and learn about putting proposals together as I progressed through school. All these experiences affirmed the importance of family and business for me.

What was your educational path like? Did it mirror that of your family?

My path did not mirror that of my parents. While my mother made it through high school, my father came from a war-torn Greece, and his maximum education level was the third grade. Because of that, our education really became my parents' mission. My father would always say, “Get a degree in your hand so that you can pave your own path.” That's exactly what my siblings and I did.

I truly feel like I am on a winning team because there is investment and care at the center of everything that we do.

Although I began college with an interest in medicine, life led me down a different path, and I returned to something I knew very well: business. I excelled in that field of study and graduated with a Marketing and Business Management degree. My love of learning has followed me throughout my career, and as a result, I’ve also obtained various certifications.

Who have been your primary mentors throughout your career?

My parents are number one because of how they’ve modeled perseverance, faith, and family, and these have been my life’s guiding principles. On top of providing us with everything we needed, they gave us the necessary skills and foundation for us to lead successful lives. Women like Indra Nooyi are also a fountain of inspiration for me. When I think about her heart-centered approach and the beauty of women and business, I know that this exemplifies who I am.

Tell me what it's like to work at Pete's. What makes it unique?

I truly feel like I am on a winning team because there is investment and care at the center of everything that we do. We operate differently than many grocers, with 88% of our staff working full-time. Anyone who joins our team can find long-term career opportunities and supported growth experiences.

Another aspect that sets us apart is that as a leadership team, we operate with a unity that transcends our differences, including generational gaps. All of us continuously strive for excellence and sincerely value hard work ethic, loyalty, commitment, care, honor and passion.

What are some examples of entry-level jobs that are available at Pete’s?

For those with little to no experience, we have positions in bagging, carts, and stocking. With more skills and experience, employees become cashiers, or they begin to develop an understanding of how the store operates–how product moves, accounting, pricing, etc.

We truly hand select our people and our products.

Obviously, we look for experience in the grocery industry because that makes onboarding and growth easier, but these positions are open to all people, and we are happy to train them. For example, we collaborated with Reimagine Retail in order to develop a second day of training for our cashiers. Our priority was to cultivate a sense of confidence in them, especially since being at the register is a stressful entry-level role.

What precludes an applicant from being considered for an entry-level job? For example, do you do criminal background checks, credit checks, or check job histories?

We don't. We interview and look at the person as a human being first. We look for honesty in our interviews, and so really nothing precludes an application. When we're opening stores, I'm involved, the recruiters are involved, and the ownership is involved. We truly hand select our people and our products.

Have you ever partnered with a nonprofit or workforce agency in the neighborhood?

At one point, we were opening a new store but hadn’t yet developed an HR department. There were hundreds and hundreds of applicants, and I was trying to handle it myself with one other person. It was chaotic with no system. Because of that, we were so thankful when we received support from Service Works, an agency through the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, and Skills for Chicagoland. They helped us with the HR, recruiting, and screening, and through their support, we were better prepared when it came time to open additional stores.

Instituto Del Progreso Latino was also a wonderful resource. We have so many ESL workers, so we worked with Instituto to design an ESL curriculum that included customer service language. It was such a rewarding experience for everyone, especially after seeing the pride our ESL employees felt during their graduation.

You also participated in a program called Reimagine Retail–could you say more about that?

Reimagine Retail opened up a unique opportunity for us to collaborate with our competitors and tackle our shared challenges head-on. The most pressing issue on our radar was retention–a hurdle we all faced. Turnover rates were really high, particularly among our cashier team. Our insights revealed that the cashier role was very demanding, prompting us to introduce a streamlined two-day onboarding process tailored specifically for cashiers.

At Pete's, we went the extra mile by setting up a dedicated training workstation and implementing a weekly training program. The results have been remarkable. Not only have our retention rates improved significantly, but our cashiers have also grown more adept at handling customer interactions and their overall responsibilities. Beyond these internal gains, we've also forged stronger bonds with our competitors, fostering a sense of collaboration that goes beyond the ordinary.

You've also done some supervisor training as an extension of that program. Can you describe that?

Every business revolves around three key elements: the people, the product, and the process. More often than not, businesses, including ours in the past, focus intensely on the product and process, while sidelining the human aspect. That left us wondering–what about our people? How could we make sure that their training and well-being were treated with the same dedication?

Wherever we are, we are committed to making investments in the store and beautifying our surroundings.

This led to the development of our Transformational Leadership Program, designed for our general managers. You know the saying: “people quit their bosses not their jobs.” When we see folks heading out the door, they're not leaving Pete's, they're distancing themselves from the people they reported to. To best serve everyone, then, we’ve taught our store managers how to communicate, how to guide, how to train, and how to inspire the teams that they lead.

A significant moment for our store management was realizing their listening was more about responding than understanding. We knew that it was critical to have our leadership comprehend the ins and outs of communication because at the end of the day, business is all about people.

Do you have any examples of employees who have come in, excelled, and moved through the organization?

We have several examples of tenured employees who have built careers and are in our management and leadership ranks. We also have examples of growth and career opportunities for newer employees who have developed at Pete’s. One employee whose journey truly exemplifies how we operate as a business is Amanda. Amanda started with Pete’s in 2015, working in the cafe, while pursuing her associates degree. With a penchant for customer service, Amanda continued to progress from cashier to customer service lead. As Amanda continued to progress at work, she began focusing her coursework on Human Resources and brought new skills to the organization, eventually becoming a Front-End Manager. As our business needs grew, we identified the need for a unique corporate support role that could train others and make use of Amanda’s strong interpersonal skills. We created a new position, Front End Audit Lead, where Amanda is continuing to shine as she grows her career.

How, if at all, do you believe Chicagoland employers should contribute to addressing poverty and inequality in Chicago neighborhoods?

I'm proud to be part of an organization that invests in the communities that we serve. We happily go everywhere, including the food deserts that others may avoid. Wherever we are, we are committed to making investments in the store and beautifying our surroundings.

Employers must make the decision to invest in the people that work for us and in the areas that we service. It may not be an easy decision to make initially, but in the end it will yield significant results. At Pete’s we continue to do this and with this thinking, we realize that there are no limits to our success.



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