Wolfe’s nears century mark, looks to a healthy future

For an astonishing 96 years, Wolfe’s Market has been an archetypal mom and pop, handed down from father to son for generations while continuing to provide quality food and service to the Claremont community.

A few years ago—with the store hit by a double-whammy of a crippling recession and the arrival of some stiff competition in the form of 2 new local grocery stores, Trader Joe’s and Sprouts—current owner Tom Wolfe wasn’t sure the longstanding enterprise would make it to 100. Buoyed by family support and enthused by a new direction, however, Mr. Wolfe is more optimistic than he has been in years.

Mr. Wolfe’s son-in-law Jeff Clark came on board as marketing manager not long ago, bringing some fresh concepts, among them an active social media presence, to a business that is already very much a family affair. Mr. Wolfe’s wife, Shauna, works alongside him, keeping the business running smoothly. His sister, Terri Ingalls, serves as the market’s baker. His daughter-in-law, Melonie Wolfe, runs the store’s website, while his daughter, Kirsti Clark, is in charge of the Wolfe’s Market blog.

Surprisingly, it was a non-business pursuit that nudged the grocery store towards its latest niche: that of a weight-loss management site. A year ago, Mr. Wolfe realized he was in trouble. In the wake of a knee injury, he had cut back significantly on the regular racquetball games that once kept him trim. He had gained weight and with the extra fat came high cholesterol and pre-diabetes. Then, he saw an infomercial for Tony Horton’s 9P0X home exercise regimen, which bills itself as being able to reboot anyone’s body in 90 days via an intense cross-training exercise program.

Using the new workout, Mr. Wolfe lost 5 pounds in a month. For his second month, he added a new element to his regimen. He began starting the day with the Beach Body diet supplement drink Shakeology and, after 30 days, had lost 25 pounds. Realizing he was on to something, Mr. Wolfe introduced P90X and Shakeology to his son-in-law, who had put on some weight after trading his college football career for life as a busy dad of 3.

They agreed to commit themselves completely to getting healthy, each turning their garage into a home gym. A year later, both of them have reached their fitness goals, complete with before-and-after pictures of their transformation from out-of-shape to top form.

“It was an incredible journey, a life-changing event,” Mr. Wolfe said of their mutual move toward renewed wellness. They decided that Wolfe’s Market should carry Shakeology and other Beach Body supplements. You can also now visit The Kitchen and have them whip up a Shakeology smoothie, featuring chocolate, banana and almond milk.

Mr. Clark then suggested they take things a step further by offering specialized meal plans featuring pre-prepared meals that health-minded clients can pick up right at Wolfe’s.

“He brings in a ton of fresh ideas,” Mr. Wolfe said of his enterprising son-in-law.

Wolfe’s currently has 45 customers who stop by for freshly prepared meals featuring what is considered to be an ideal balance of protein, carbs and fat. There are even a couple of P90X-inspired dishes available in the Kitchen that are proving popular with customers at large, including a roasted root vegetable salad.

Mr. Wolfe has also led 2 groups of customers in a Beach Body Ultimate Reset Cleanse, which he says takes a lot of commitment. He is truly delighted to be able to offer customers tools through which they can improve their bodies and their lives.

“It’s the first time I’ve been excited about anything here in a long time, because we help so many people,” he said.

While those interested in a significant lifestyle change may be intrigued by Wolfe’s new direction, traditionalists will be relieved to hear that Wolfe’s has not stopped specializing in the items that have made the market a local treasure for years: produce chosen for its freshness and variety and regularly restocked, prime meat cut as lean as possible and pre-prepared food that is skillfully seasoned and oven-ready.  

Mr. Wolfe is also dedicated to maintaining a positive culture at the store. At a recent meeting, Mr. Wolfe and his employees took some time to enumerate the things the business stands for.

“Quality products. Supreme service,” he listed. “Integrity, which means the ability to do the right thing. To be a team.”

“Not just to be a team but to be a family,” Ms. Wolfe corrected him. “That includes our employees and customers.”

The final value the Wolfe family came up with is continual improvement, both as a business and as individuals. Claremont deserves excellence, Mr. Wolfe emphasized.

“What keeps us going is the sense of community we have in Claremont,” Mr. Wolfe said. “Some of the values Wolfe’s represents are still important to the people that live here.”

These values are timeworn. To put things in historical perspective, Mr. Wolfe’s great-grandfather, John D. Wolfe, first opened J.D. Wolfe & Co. in 1917, when World War I was still raging. The original Mr. Wolfe handed the store down to his son, who handed it down to his son, Ed Wolfe, the current owner’s father. Ed is still alive, Tom notes, adding “He still comes around to check up on me.”

When he does, he finds a store stocked with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, a tip-top butcher shop and, along with household staples, an array of gourmet products  that make Wolfe’s an invaluable asset to local foodies. These include gourmet sauces from the Maine-based company Stonewall Kitchen; milk in glass bottles from Broguiere’s in Montebello, Dr. Bob’s Handcrafted Ice Creams, high in butter-fat and quality ingredients like Sharffen Berger chocolate and developed by Robert Small, a longtime Cal Poly Pomona professor; and hard-to-find specialty drinks like Sioux City Sarsparilla. 

It’s features like these that Claremont resident Gail Broome has come to expect from her favorite local market.

“The produce is top-notch. It’s like a European market,” Ms. Broome said. “I also like the fact that they have a butcher. You can come in and order anything in advance. And there really is nowhere else in the area where you can get premade food of really good quality.”

Ms. Broome notes that she also has a family connection to the store. Her husband, now 43, worked as a cashier at Wolfe’s when he was a teenager. As a result, he has more than a little nostalgia for the little market that keeps on going.

“I also think that it’s important to keep places like this open,” she said. “Why not keep places like this open, places with this kind of history, so that not everything becomes a chain, a corporation, a conglomeration.”

With the Wolfes feeling more confident and revitalized than they have in years, Claremonters will likely be able to stop in at the storied neighborhood grocery for many years to come. It’s a prospect they relish.

“We’re lucky to be in the community—we’re lucky to be in Claremont,” Ms. Wolfe said. “We have great customers. The people in this area really do appreciate quality products.”

—Sarah Torribio



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