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Johnny's Liquor — more than drinks

June 03, 2002|By TIM YANNI, Staff Writer, Dateline: Westmorland

Go into Johnny's Liquor in Westmorland and it appears similar to any other liquor store in the Imperial Valley.

About two minutes later, however, you'll realize this is no ordinary liquor store, as several busloads of migrant farm workers pull up to Johnny's to fill up on beverages, refreshments, burritos and pizza.

"Without the field workers. the Imperial Valley would not make it," said owner Ernie Mojarro of Brawley. "Everyone is welcome. We have open doors to everyone."

Mojarro, who has owned the store for three years, said he is happy to see Johnny's as successful as it is, particularly because it has gone through several owners since Johnny Martin owned it in 1947.


"It used to be really rundown," Mojarro said.

He said in the past the store was a hub for pornographic magazines and videos, but that all changed when he took over ownership.

"I have some of the original employees," Mojarro said, noting he likes to keep his customers happy and his employees are all taught to do so.

Mojarro, originally from San Diego, said he never intended to live in the Imperial Valley but a job offer from his brother-in-law at a Brawley convenience store drew him here.

"I never pictured myself living and working in the Imperial Valley," Mojarro said.

"Nothing beats being your own boss," Mojarro said, adding he used to work as a stockbroker. "I turned in my suits and ties for shorts and hats."

Mojarro said Johnny's is positioned in the perfect location to appeal to travelers and migrant farm workers.

"This is a key location," Mojarro said. "This is the first city they hit. Things like that really help us a lot."

Mojarro said he has many return customers from the Palm Desert area as well as Borrego Springs and even Alpine.

"We cater to families," he said, adding Johnny's is more than just a liquor store.

"They feel good about the warmth of the Imperial Valley," Mojarro said of his out-of-town guests.

He added people come from miles around for what he boasts are the "biggest burritos in town."

"This little kitchen has a lot of volume," Mojarro said.

Gracie Ginnis, who has worked at Johnny's since 1978, said she is quite happy working under Mojarro.

"I like my boss," Ginnis said.

Ginnis, who has lived in Westmorland since 1946, said she has seen the small town go through many changes.

"There's been a lot of changes," Ginnis said. "I see it growing. We're going to grow in a better way than what it used to be."

Ginnis said she likes working with the people who shop at Johnny's and she is pleased to see so many return customers.

She said the kitchen has grown tremendously since she has worked at the store and she said the carne asada burritos are "excellent."

"All of our food is fresh cooked," Ginnis said. "None of it comes out of packages."

She said Johnny's marinates its own carne asada and prepares its own pizza.

‘It's a busy little place," Ginnis said. "I like the fast pace of the work."

Mojarro said he visits convenience stores in the Los Angeles area to see how things are done there and then tries to duplicate it.

This research has encouraged him to install frozen drink machines as well as ice cream freezers and other advancements the store did not have when he took over.

Mojarro said the most commonly sold products are Clamato, beer and sodas, and he boasts of having the only convenience store that offers menudo seven days a week.

Mojarro said his gas prices are the lowest in town and rival some of the lowest in the Valley.

"I don't want to make a profit on gas," Mojarro said, noting his philosophy is to get customers to buy their gas and then make a purchase inside.

Mojarro said he plans on expanding Johnny's and adding 16 gas pumps, along with a drive-thru window to help boost his burrito sales.

"I'm here to stay and make it successful," he said.

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