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Frank Menolascino

Staff Profile: People's Food Co-op—La Crosse Produce Manager

The People’s Food Co-op would not exist as we know it today without the hard work of so many dedicated community members, volunteers, and employees. “It was really built on the backs of people, and Frank is a perfect example of that,” says Ann O’Malley of Frank Menolascino, the PFC–La Crosse produce manager. Ann is currently the accountant for the La Crosse store, but if we turn the clock back 35 years, Frank and Ann held fairly different positions at PFC. Ann recalls her first encounter with Frank who, at the time, was general manager, “I was volunteering, and he showed me how to wrap cheese. I didn’t do a very good job, and he made me do it over. So I knew what a perfectionist he was, and his standards are very high.” While Ann’s cheese wrapping days are far behind her, she continues to maintain Frank’s high standards in PFC’s bookkeeping.

“He’s got passion,” store manager Jen McCoy says of Frank, “and in this business that’s important. Frank’s passion for the produce business, the people he works with, and the people we serve has been a huge part of the success of our Co-op. He has watched me grow up and grow into the business and has taught me a lot.”

The beginning

After moving to the area in the late 1970s, Frank began to shop at People’s Food Co-op, which was then located at 8th and Adams. While stopping in to shop one day, a hiring notice caught Frank’s eye. “You know, I don’t usually stop to read things, but it said that they needed a manager for the store.”


It’s apparent that being a grocer is in Frank’s blood. “My parents were in the grocery business in Chicago. There was always sort of a business conversation in the house. My parents were born in Italy, so food was always a huge thing in our family, and since they owned a grocery store we had all the best fruits and vegetables available, and food was always paramount.

“Also I had taken an interest in health—what you ate and how it affects you. And I thought, you know, maybe I’ll apply for that job. So I applied for it and became store manager.” Shortly after being hired, Frank recalls, “One of the gals that worked there,” said: “Oh boy, I can see things are going to change now.”
Frank, Peg Nolan (previous GM), and Catherine McCormick, house mother  


 


And as the story goes, things really did begin to progress and bloom, largely as a result of the hard work of the committed staff. Frank remembers his coworkers expressing their surprise at the ­Co-op’s progress. He notes, “It’s not that complicated. We sell good food, at a good price, with a smile on our face.”


Fruits of labor

As the Co-op continued to grow, Frank realized that his strengths would be better utilized in an individual department. “I said: I’m not a meeting person, I’m not a computer person, I’m a customer person. So I stepped down and just was produce manager.”
It does seem as though Frank knew what was best, as Ann remembers: “Frank can buy produce like nobody else. He wants
the best. If it isn’t up to his standards, he won’t accept it. And you know, that is why we are so successful.” While much of PFC’s success in produce is a result of Frank’s innate skill in the numbers game, it’s his love for the customers and his appreciation of the craft that have kept him going throughout the years. “Produce is artful to me, you know the colors and the change of seasons—it’s phenomenal. What a lucky man I am to work around so many wonderful people, and such wonderful products, and wonderful customers. It’s been…” Frank trailed off, shaking his head, smiling.


The coach

When asked about his triumphs over the years, Frank gives a lot of the credit to his long-term employees, though anyone who knows Frank probably suspects he used a sports metaphor, referring to them as his teammates. Frank’s an avid tennis player and coach, but it’s been apparent since the early days of the Co-op that Frank doesn’t leave his coaching abilities on the tennis court. Margaret Mills, the PFC–La Crosse grocery manager, reminisces of her days volunteering for Frank, “He just taught me everything that I know, like, ‘stacking it high, watching it fly,’ and his marketing and merchandising. It just floored me from day one.”


“We’ve all got things to learn. I’ve been doing this for 35 years. I still learn every day,” says Frank.

Another sports metaphor Frank used recently was, “Time to hang up my spikes here pretty soon.” While we don’t like this analogy as much, it will be a much-deserved retirement when it arrives. Frank’s passion for good food and great service has kept him rooted at the Co-op for 35 years. We all suspect his retirement will be filled with tennis matches and visits to the Co-op to keep us on our toes. Frank has made a lasting impact at People’s Food Co-op, and we owe him a huge thank you.

General Manager, Michelle Schry, credits Frank with fostering her love of the grocery business when she was an undergraduate working at the co-op in the late 80’s. "Frank has a way of taking staff members under his wing and connecting with them on a real, personal level. I’ve always loved working with Frank. He’s just a great guy. He’s a natural mentor who points you in the right direction and let’s you run. It makes him a great tennis coach and a great leader in our store.  If he follows through on his threats to retire it will be a big adjustment for all of us. He’s more than earned it, but he’ll be sorely missed."

—Karissa Kostka