Neil's Heroes: Jack and Suren Avedisian

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 11, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

Click here to watch the interview

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: You know, on a day we honor Ronald Reagan, I’m really excited about two guys I think Ronald Reagan would just love, because they personify his passion. Their passion was their livelihood, and their customers who shopped at their Omni Foods, they were loyal, and they were passionate as they come. With some customers, it was almost a cult status to shop in their grocery stores.

In February 2000, though, a massive fire engulfed a number of buildings. Among them, one of Omni’s main stores. And as I wrote in "More Than Money," instead of laying off their workers, Jack and Suren Avedisian decided to rebuild and continue to pay 85 employees, even while they were not working. It is my honor now to welcome the father-and-son team, Jack and Suren Avedisian, the heroes from "More Than Money."

Gentlemen, it’s so great to have you here in the flesh.



CAVUTO: A number of people have talked to me about the book and said, "I want to see Jack and Suren on your show. Get ‘em on. Get ‘em on. All right, so they’re on.

Why did you guys do it? A store burns down, you are not compelled to keep paying people. Why did you do it?

J. AVEDISIAN: We made that decision very easily, because the night of the fire, we were standing in the parking lot with all of our people. And at the same time, the question comes up, as we think about it, and thought a little bit ahead, how quickly can we reopen the store? And we honestly believed that there was only one answer to that, as quickly as we could.

And then you need to think about your people. And as we did that, we made that decision that evening. It was a simple...

S. AVEDISIAN: It was actually...

CAVUTO: It was real quick, right? You were saying like -- boom.

S. AVEDISIAN: It was that afternoon. Everybody was standing there watching the fire burn with us, and everybody was panicking, of course, because a lot of them are wondering about their next paycheck. And we just said, "Just don’t worry, we’ll take care of you."

CAVUTO: Yes, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the delays. You know, they go and...


S. AVEDISIAN: Well, as I said to you when we spoke...

CAVUTO: And more delays and more delays.

S. AVEDISIAN: ... it was one of those things where you continue to go on as long as you can. And, yes, we did reach the point where we started wondering, can we go much further than this?

CAVUTO: Would there have been a breaking point for you, where you’d just say no mas, can’t do this?

S. AVEDISIAN: I think there may have been at some point. If it had gone on for, you know, eight or nine months, we might have had to do something different. But we had a lot of pressure being pushed upon us by our customers to try and reopen. We were putting pressure on the city and the demolition crew to get the thing done so that we could get our people in there. And we had a contingency plan set up that basically rolled on a weekly basis as to when we could do things and how we would move forward.

CAVUTO: Now, Jack...

J. AVEDISIAN: We had an awful...

CAVUTO: ... you could have accepted a big insurance check, and you and Suren could have just walked away.

J. AVEDISIAN: Sure. Sure.

CAVUTO: Why didn’t you?

J. AVEDISIAN: Well, we had -- the first thing is that we had the belief that we could reopen that store within a period of time that made sense to us. And I guess the most important thing was to take care of the people that worked with us.

They made that store, they made it all the years that we were there prior to the fire. And we anticipated the idea of being around for many more years. And I guess our attitude is, in taking care of our people, they’ll do a better job for us in satisfying customers.

CAVUTO: They were very loyal, too. All of them stayed for the reopening, right?


CAVUTO: And customers came back.

J. AVEDISIAN: That’s right.

CAVUTO: Like it was a cult thing to come back, right? Do you guys, knowing how good you were to your people and the reputation a lot of -- we were saying during the break a lot of reputations businessmen and women have in the country. It’s not good, and here you guys stand out. But I’m wondering if you really do stand out, if there is just a lot of good people like you who don’t get much press. What do you think?

S. AVEDISIAN: I think there are a lot of good people out there. And you don’t get the adversities put in your face that force you to step up to the plate sometimes. A larger company has a lot of other resources to put to bear against what they want to do. And if we were a very large company, it wouldn’t have been an -- it would have been a lot easier decision to move people around. But in our case, as a small company, we had to react differently.

CAVUTO: Yes, but all the more reason.

S. AVEDISIAN: That’s right.

CAVUTO: A small company to say, who cares, we’re out of here.

S. AVEDISIAN: No, but we believed in the people. We believed they needed to be taken care of. Yes, it was a tough economic time for employment...


S. AVEDISIAN: ... because trying to replace those people quickly would have been very difficult. But it was the right thing to do for our people.

CAVUTO: You know, you are surrounded by all these big stores. The Pathmarks, the Safeways, these mega centers that are the size of football fields. Yet, your little stores survive. How?

J. AVEDISIAN: I guess it’s an attitude that we try to pass onto our people. And that attitude of honesty, in terms of how well we know we can do the job and taking care of that business.

CAVUTO: But you have a lot of special stuff, right? So people like organic vegetable -- you have all sorts of stuff.

S. AVEDISIAN: We tend to focus more on the perishable side, better quality produce and a lot of organic items in there, natural meats. So it’s a conventional grocery store, but with a lot of naturals and specials.

CAVUTO: But when the mega complexes move in, these gigantic stores, you just continue to thrive.

S. AVEDISIAN: You just keep on going on the service and the quality, because when the customer walks into the door and we talk to them and say, "Hi," and our people ask them how they are, and they can walk through this aisle and see people, it makes a difference.

CAVUTO: And apparently a lot of these people will gladly pay more for the stuff in your store, because of you guys or maybe your people, or the quality, or the camaraderie. I don’t know what it is. What is it?

J. AVEDISIAN: It’s the freshness of our product.


J. AVEDISIAN: I think that we have that belief that we can do it just a little bit better than the other person.


J. AVEDISIAN: And the freshness is the thing that makes our produce departments just outstanding. And when we talk about deliveries, six days a week to our stores, that is exactly the truth. It is six days a week. It’s not product that has been sitting in a warehouse somewhere for several days.

CAVUTO: So you guys talk quality, you talk loyalty...

J. AVEDISIAN: Absolutely. And freshness.

CAVUTO: Any final reflections, particularly from you, things that your dad taught you that you want to continue?

S. AVEDISIAN: We continue -- the things I want to continue are focusing on the customer. The customer is right. The customer is the one who pays our bills and pays our employees. So we want to make sure we go out of our way to take care of the customer.

That’s the way it’s been. He set it up that way, and we just continue to do it.

CAVUTO: All right. You’re following some pretty big footsteps.

S. AVEDISIAN: Thank you.

CAVUTO: All right. I’m biased here, but those are two remarkable individuals, Jack and Suren Avedisian. Reminders that, you know, not everyone in business is a bad guy.

Content and Programming Copyright 2004 Fox News Network, L.L.C. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, L.L.C.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.