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Jenice & Ryan Thoma

Everyone has an ED/story - an educational experience. What was learning like for you? Was it hard? Did you get help from a teacher or family member? Or did you figure it out on your own? Were there lessons both inside and outside the classroom?
This ED/Story is about welcoming opportunity, valuing all kinds of knowledge and learning, and happiness.
We see them every day, every kind! Grocery stores! Big ones, small ones, stores for the health conscious, stores for the gourmet, ethnic stores and GROCERY OUTLET. One is located in Jackson and owned and operated by Jenice and Ryan Thoma.
Early on, Jenice and Ryan appreciated the company’s business model, positive growth, and reputation. But something else about Grocery Outlet appeals to the Thomas. Grocery Outlet was founded in SF in the mid —40’s by the Read Family who still own and run it. Ryan and Jenice like that! Because besides good business, family is the most important thing to these to two life partners.
Ryan and Jenice Thoma both seemed destined to serve. Jenice planned to be a nurse and Ryan was headed into law enforcement, keeping with a family tradition. Childhood sweethearts, they both began working at the GO in Yuba City where they struck up a still meaningful relationship with the owners/operators of that store; a couple named the Dorseys.
Under the tutelage of Mr. Dorsey, Ryan was a fast learner and quick to understand “front of the store” practices, presentation, ordering; and before he knew it, he was doing the next step in store management - budgets, optimizing sales, personnel.
Jenice worked as a clerk/cashier but interestingly also got a job as the Dorseys nanny. This gave her a keen perspective of both sides of their employers lives - work and family…and that was a pivotal moment for Ryan and Jenice.
They were impressed by how productive and successful the Dorseys were, while balancing a meaningful family life. This became a full-blown inspiration to Ryan and Jenice, so they rolled up their sleeves and got busy. With minimal college and NO BUSINESS courses, they committed themselves to a joint project: to own and operate a GROCERY OUTLET.
As they continued to train and their skills improved, the company recognized their abilities. So Jenice and Ryan happily accepted transfers (that always came with more responsibility) and all the while lived on a budget, worked hard, and made sacrifices.
They learned on the spot, learned from mistakes as well as achievements, and to this day, firmly believe in this company they say “sets you up to succeed”.
Between learning the techniques of marketing, to how to order, to how to hire people, the Thomas never let a setback keep them from going after what they wanted.
…and according to them, THAT WAS the process! That was how they learned. THAT was their education and that’s how in a relatively short time (there’s only ONE OTHER Grocery Outlet that has younger owners) they built an equitable and thriving business in a community they support and love AND how they can put family first.
So it would seem, that’s story. But it wasn’t! It wasn’t the whole story. It wasn’t the ED/Story.
The interview was winding down and I had JUST turned off the recorder when Ryan quietly said to me, “You know, I’ll tell you something. I have a learning disability.”
He could have told me he scaled Mt Everest and I wouldn’t have been as surprised! There he was, a devoted family man, a young, successful business owner, able to discuss with ease how to own and run a business who exhibited absolutely NO indication of any sort of reading or learning issue.
I asked him if he’d be comfortable sharing this and he said by all means! In fact, he thought it was important for people to hear - especially young people who might be overcoming this kind of challenge. He described how he was identified in elementary school and how he was taught strategies and reading skills that he uses to this day.
This young man who started out with a challenge now handles budgets, personnel, government regulations, everything from international trade issues to the PLUMBING!
He talked about working hard and observing and how he had help from family and outside mentors alike, and how he used common sense and never gave up; and though he was describing how he overcame a singular challenge and achieved his goal — I pointed out to both Ryan and Jenice just how that sounds remarkably similar to the way they achieved a common goal.
The interview ended a second time and there was so much I WANTED to say to them! But before I could, Ryan headed one direction to a shelf that needed attention and Jenice another to answer a cashier’s question. I didn’t have a chance to tell them how interesting and inspiring their story is! How it’s a message to their children about putting family first, a message to learners of all kinds about adapting and overcoming challenges, and a message to anyone working hard to get what they want to NOT give up and that they can do it!
…but they didn’t get a chance to hear me … maybe they can now — and if you do hear me Jenice and Ryan, let me tell you…if you could figure out a way to bottle all that, you could sell it in your store…
…and that’s an ED/Story.

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