RANCHO CUCAMONGA - The story of Jesus Cardenas, founder and president of Cardenas Markets who died March 5, is the perfect example of how hard work can attain the American dream, according to a regional economic expert.

"I think you have to look at the Cardenas Markets in the Inland Empire as just another success story for the business community here," said Paul Granillo, the president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership, based in San Bernardino.

"You look at McDonalds, which is from the Inland Empire," Granillo said. "Cardenas Markets is another example of what the Inland Empire is able to create when it comes to business."

A public memorial for Cardenas was held Wednesday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.

Jesus Cardenas
Jesus Cardenas

The 73-year-old Rancho Cucamonga resident had battled colon cancer for nine years, said company spokesman Marco Robles.

The Cardenas supermarket chain has 29 stores in 19 cities in Southern California and Las Vegas. The company employs about 3,000 people.

Originally from Jalisco, Mexico, Cardenas came to the United States at the age of 18 and worked as a migrant farmer before opening his first Cardenas Market in Ontario in 1981.

"We are a company that has developed over the years both as a business, as well as a corporate citizen. We are very proud of our development," Robles said.

From humble beginnings 30 years ago, the chain grew throughout the Inland Empire, he said.

"Our efforts extend far and wide for the needs of education, health, and in anything that benefits the quality of life in the communities in which we are located," Robles said.

Company expansion took off in the 1990s after the success of the company's sixth store in Pomona, Robles said. The company began a partnership with Bank of America, which invested in the company's growth.

"By their measure, they were able to see there was a potential for this business to grow, and there began a relationship that is much as it was then as it is today," Robles said.

Robles said a key signature of the stores is the family atmosphere, and the themed architecture and decor of the supermarket's interior.

In Ontario, one location has a Mexican village along the food sections. A citrus orchard marks the decor for the produce section.

Family members remain key executives in the company, Robles said.

Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, said Tuesday he was deeply saddened to learn of Cardenas' death.

"Mr. Cardenas came from modest beginnings and through his hard work, went on to achieve huge recognition in the community as a successful Latino business owner," Medina said. "His family will carry on his memory through their continued participation in the community."

Cardenas is survived by his wife, Luz; daughter Lupe; sons Jesus Jr., Jose and George; and six grandchildren.

The family has requested privacy. Flowers and cards can be directed to Cardenas Markets' corporate office at 2501 E. Guasti Road, Ontario.

neil.nisperos@inlandnewspapers.com 909-483-9356, @RanchoNow