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Retiring Grocer Gives Company to Employees

Joe Lueken

Over the past 46 years, Joe Lueken has built a successful chain of grocery stores in Minnesota and North Dakota. Having recently turned 70, it’s time for Lueken to retire and enjoy the good life with his wife.

Although the Bemidji, Minnesota man has big money offers from larger supermarket chains, he decided he was going to go in another direction with the future of his company — Lueken is going to give Lueken’s Village Foods to his 400 employees, free of charge.

“My employees are largely responsible for any success I’ve had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that,” Lueken told the Star Tribune. “You can’t always take. You also have to give back.”

As of January 1, the employees will take over through the Employee Stock Ownership Program. Traditionally, employees pay for their shares in the program through payroll deductions but in Lueken’s case he never charged a penny for the shares.

Needless to say, his employees are thrilled with his decision. Not only are their jobs secure during what could otherwise be a stressful transition, but they now own a grocery chain.

“He chose to protect his people,” store manager Maria Svare explained. “Being owners will make us care more about our work. It gives you something to call your own and gives you a more comfortable retirement to look forward to.”

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