Ralphs, the well-loved California home-state grocery chain, was a local Los Angeles food hub long before today's string of shiny supermarkets, 184 of which still operate under the Ralphs brand name. Though now part of the larger Kroger family, Ralphs has remained true to its origins as far as location. All stores remain in California, dotting the SoCal landscape from its northern to southern boundaries and all spots in between. That's a far cry from the store's humble roots and its crucial role in feeding the burgeoning Los Angeles population of the late 1800s.
The Ralphs story begins with a single visionary man, one who would never have found his foodie calling if not for a near-fatal accident. A master bricklayer named George Ralphs was following in the footsteps of his brickyard-owner father, who constructed the first brick building in San Bernardino. George himself earned the distinction of "Champion Bricklayer" of Southern California. But, at a mere 22 years of age, he suffered a fateful injury while hunting in 1872, one that claimed his left arm and decimated his chosen career path.
Though hard to imagine, better things were in the wings as George Ralphs re-directed his entrepreneurial spirit to the food industry, joined shortly by his brother, Walter Ralphs, a California farmer -- officially creating the Ralphs Brothers brand. It became evident that the brothers were destined for grocery greatness, but George's severed arm wasn't the only tragic, and ultimately fatal, accident to befall the beloved grocer.
More Progress And Tragedy For The Ralphs Founder
Despite once being on divergent professional tracks -- one was a bricklayer and the other a farmer -- the two Ralphs brothers together created grocery-store magic, developing an obvious knack for the business. They keenly saw the potential for Los Angeles, then a small town of about 8,000 people. Wagons and horses were still the mode of transportation in the 1870s when they built a two-story grocery store in downtown LA, and their intuitive instincts at that time led to the sprawling grocery chain still embraced across the state.
Their store became the hub of food commerce by recognizing how to draw farmers to supply it: Build a hitching rack for their horses and provide lodging for them after a long day of travel and unloading their grains, dairy products, and meats for the Ralphs Brothers store. They also had the insight, when expanding, to stay within the city where shoppers could easily access their groceries -- thereby becoming what was likely the first chain grocery store in Los Angeles.
The Ralphs grocery chain has grown and prospered as California's hometown grocer for 150-plus years now, but, sadly, its founder, George Ralphs, fell victim to yet another freak accident. While hiking with his wife and children in San Bernardino's Waterman Canyon, a large boulder dislodged and carried him down a deep ravine, crushing his leg and abruptly ending his life on June 21, 1914, at age 64.
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