LISA STEEN PROCTOR
The L.A. area is chock full of frazzled two-income families with more discretionary money than time.
And those are exactly the people El Segundo-based Bristol Farms is targeting folks earning more money and having less time to prepare dinner but with an increasing appetite for higher-quality food.
Bristol Farms' recent success indicates it has hit on something.
In the last 16 months, the chain has doubled its number of stores and almost doubled its sales. Bristol Farms now has six stores in the L.A. area primarily in tonier zip codes such as Manhattan Beach and Westlake Village ringing up sales of about $90 million in 1996, up from about $50 million in 1995.
The impetus for this rapid expansion? Kidd Kamm & Co., a Beverly Hills investment firm that usually invests in and then expands companies for five or six years before taking the companies public or selling them off.
In 1995, Kidd Kamm purchased the Bristol Farms chain from founders Irving and Audrey Gronsky, with plans to put the small operation into high gear.
The Gronskys, who will not reveal the purchase price, said they have no regrets about selling out.
"I pretty much felt it was time to retire there are a lot of places I want to see, a lot of things I want to do," said 71-year-old Irving, in a phone interview last week from his and his wife's 80-foot sport fishing boat in San Diego, just before they disembarked for a three-month trip down the coast of Mexico.
"Selling of Bristol Farms came at the right time in my life. I was not ready to go forward with an expansion, and Bristol Farms is the kind of company that needs to be expanded," said Gronsky.
Retaining a minority share in the company was not an option. "When you're a sole proprietor all your life, you don't think in terms of minority ownership," said Gronsky.
Kidd Kamm took the original chain with stores in Rolling Hills Estates, Pasadena and Manhattan Beach and doubled the number of stores. Stores were opened in Woodland Hills, Westlake Village and, in February, Long Beach.
And there's more to come, says Kurt Kamm, a partner at Kidd Kamm. "Over the next three to five years, we plan to open 15 stores or more."
The investment group was actively searching for a gourmet food market when it came across Bristol Farms.
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