OGDEN -- Customers milled through the store, checking the produce and filling their grocery carts. A baker brought out trays of freshly baked Mexican bread. Outside, a welder soldered a corner of a cart corral, while a crew painted yellow lines for handicapped and expectant mother parking spaces.
The doors opened on Wednesday to !Viva! Marketplace, 916 7th St., a new Latino grocery store.
Former Ogden vice mayor Joe Reyna opened the store in partnership with Marketstar founder Alan Hall and Iomega cofounder Dave Norton.
The Ogden area already has a few Mexican markets, but with more than a third of the city's population being Latino and mostly of Mexican origin, Reyna sees a unique business possibility.
"Our idea was to make something different," said Reyna, a native of Coahuila, Mexico. "Different design, different colors, but still not out of touch with the paisanos (immigrant countrymen), so they feel at home, and at the same time, not to scare the Caucasians, so they feel welcome as well."
Reyna worked for Zions Bank until May, so he saw the possibilities and the money made by Latino markets. Because he handled millions of dollars in loans, he knew the costs and revenues of Hispanic supermarkets.
With an Ogden store open, he plans to create a chain of stores. Seeing an untapped market in Idaho, Reyna said he will head north with his new stores.
"Out of all of the businesses that I learned about as a banker, it seems the most familiar," Reyna said. "If you are going to take a risk, if you fall, fall on a cushion that you feel comfortable with. You have to measure because you have to know how much you want it to hurt, because it is going to hurt."
Even with Reyna's financial experience, the risk is high for the new venture.
Most people would be apprehensive to start a business in a bad economy.
"That is why I got into food," Reyna said. "People always eat."
Because Reyna's background is in banking and finance and not grocery store management, he brought in Dennis Lorencz, who has 40 years of grocery store experience, especially with Hispanic markets.
Serving as buyer as well, Lorencz is bringing in grocery products from Mexico, Central and South America. Some of the produce will reflect the Ogden area's diversity, with items such as chayote, prickly pear and large banana leaves.
The market also has the typical Mexican market fare such as baked goods and a butcher specializing in cuts of meat typically used by Latinos. The store also has a Mexican restaurant for hungry customers.
Most of the staff, including the skilled butcher, baker and head restaurant cook, were hired by placing a help-wanted sign on the front door while they were preparing the store.
"We got more than 400 applications in a month," Reyna said. "It tells you, one, there is a lot of unemployed and two, this place has good traffic."
!Viva! Marketplace will celebrate its grand opening from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. today. Viva Mexican Grill will sell a taco and a drink for $1. There will be live music and dancing, including a performance by El Mariachi Sol de Jalisco.
With the doors to one store open, Reyna already plans to start scouting a new location in November.
"Next week," Reyna said.