Six days a week, one dedicated Sonoma county resident draws on more than forty years of grocery and retail experience to drive the success of a unique establishment: the country’s first combined grocery store and food bank.
Ms. Roxanne Abruzzo-Backman, aka “Rocky”, is the manager of the Food Connections Market. She is also a proud alumna of Santa Rosa Junior College, holding an A.A. in Human Resources, a Certificate in Hospitality, and a Certificate in Entrepreneurship (ESHIP), all earned while working full-time and raising a family.
In 2018, she won a prize in the annual SRJC ESHIP Student Pitch contest for her company, Rocky’s Rubs, which makes proprietary spice mixes and tea blends. A committed lifelong learner, she is currently enrolled in the SRJC certificate program for Personal Trainer, Wellness and Nutrition and hopes to finish her Marketing Certificate this year as well.
The Food Connections Market is part of the services available to Sonoma County Residents via the Redwood Empire Food Bank. Open to the general public, the Food Connections Market offers low-income shoppers access to fresh produce and quality groceries in a welcoming, dignified shopping environment, according to the REFB website. Customers are also able to access additional hunger-relief services at the Food Connections offices next door.
Abruzzo-Backman worked her way up the ladder at grocery chains such as Safeway and Oliver’s Markets. A reliable employee, dedicated student and diligent worker, her positive impact on store performance led to promotion. Looking back, she says that she always thought that success correlated to the amount of money she made. When she reached the Director level and a salary that she had always dreamed of, she realized that it did not grant the satisfaction that she had expected.
“The money comes with strings,” she said thoughtfully. She’s much happier leading the Food Connections Market. While she is earning less money, she has a stable work-life balance and goes to sleep at night knowing that her energy and experience have helped people. Sales have increased fivefold since she started working there in January, and she is currently planning a remodel of the market, including the addition of a coffee service.
Abruzzo-Backman applies many lessons learned at SRJC on a daily basis. She recalls a lesson taught by one of her favorite entrepreneurship professors. She said, “Don’t buy it, rent it. Don’t rent it, barter for it. Don’t barter for it, borrow it. Ask and find a way to keep from spending money if you don’t have to.”
As an aspiring entrepreneur, she took those lessons to heart, and now she works with her team to squeeze and save every possible penny. After all, that’s what it takes to create a warm and positive shopping experience for all customers at the Food Connections Market, and that is her constant goal.