It all started with a pregnant pig in Corona. When Luz and Jesus Cardenas traded some tools for a sow 25 years ago, they had no idea the pig was expecting. But that gave the couple a head start on a thriving hog farm and that, in turn lead to a thriving supermarket chain with over 1,100 employees based in Ontario, California. Cardenas Markets now has twelve locations in Ontario, Montclair, Moreno Valley, Pomona, Fontana, Rialto, Colton, San Jacinto and Riverside. Six of those were added since June of 2000 and in 2004 Cardenas Markets will add a store in Rubidoux. Cardenas Markets has a strong reputation for quality meat and knows that its extensive meat department and wide array of Latino foods will allow us to expand market share and customer count.
When it comes to rags-to-richest stories, Jesus Cardenas' is a classic. He came to the United States as an 18-year-old migrant farm worker in the mid-1950s from Jalisco, Mexico. Jesus worked as a picker in the lemon groves of Cucamonga, orange groves of Corona and lettuce fields of Indio on the now defunct Bracero program that permitted Mexican citizens to work in the country legally.
 After marrying Luz in 1964, he milked cows at Corona dairies, and  eventually bought a small home in Riverside on Monroe Street.  But Jesus wanted more. All his life he didn't want to work for  anyone else but himself.
 In the mid-1970s, Jesus and Luz, who had moved to a Corona  house on 2.5 acres, embarked on their first business venture.  Jesus traded some tools for the pregnant sow that they would use  as breeding stock. Luz ran the farm, buying and selling hogs,  while Jesus continued working at a dairy. She would sell the pigs  to Latino and Asian families who did their own slaughtering. The  hog farm grew so quickly that Jesus and Luz bought 40 acres near  Barstow and moved the pig operation to the High Desert in 1977.  By then, they had 7,000 hogs.
Eventually, customers started asking for cuts of meat rather than whole hogs. The family listened and responded--a practice that continues to this day. The ranch grew to include cows, goats, sheep and chickens. Using what she had on hand and recipes from her hometown, Luz began making Mexican style cheeses and chorizo sausage.
The families reputation for quality meats and Luz's chorizo had customers lining up out the door. Luz would manage the ranch and make the chorizo and cheese, their son, Jesus Jr., would act as butcher and daughter Lupe was the cashier. In 1979 the Cardenases partnered with two of Jesus' brothers to open food stores in Santa Ana and Anaheim. Jesus and Luz later sold out and with a $45,000 loan, opened a 4,000 square-foot store on their own in Ontario in 1981.
The store, still in operation, was the first of what is now the Cardenas supermarket chain, which offered a mix of produce, meats and dry goods and catered to the Latino market. The company grew slowly and steadily until the family opened its fourth store in 1991, in Moreno Valley. This store, at 22,000 square feet, was three times larger than anything they opened before. They were now competing with larger supermarket chains in an area that didn't have as many Latino shoppers as the neighborhoods surrounding their other stores. A downturn in the economy didn't help matters. As this store became profitable, opportunities for larger stores appeared in Ontario, Pomona, Fontana, another store in Moreno Valley, Rialto, Colton, San Jacinto and Riverside.