The Pachecos of Reliable Market

Specializing in quality meats and friendly service, the Oak Bluffs market is ‘all in the family.’

From left, Bob Pacheco, Jen Freeman, Eddie Pacheco, and Donna Pacheco. — Stacey Rupolo

The Reliable Market, a full-service grocery store on Circuit Ave. in Oak Bluffs, has been a family owned and operated business since it opened its doors in 1947. It was founded by Armando “Eddie” Pacheco and Irene Helen Pacheco, who married in 1945 and moved from Rhode Island specifically to establish a grocery store on the Vineyard. Mr. Pacheco previously worked in sales for a food company. Ms. Pacheco (who was known by both names – Irene and Helen) came from a grocer family. Currently the store is run by two generations — Bob and Donna Pacheco and their two children, Eddie Pacheco and Jen Freeman, along with help from other employees who manage various departments. Bob attended the National School of Meat Cutting in Toledo, Ohio, before taking over the meat department. Donna handles the administration on the corporate level — pension plan, health insurance, etc. Jen does the day-to-day bookkeeping and monthly billing. Eddie handles many of the management responsibilities, as well as ordering the specialty cheeses and packaged meats. They all share numerous other duties as well.

What is Reliable best known for?
Eddie: We have always prided ourselves on our fresh quality meats. It’s rare in this day and age to have a butcher/owner. Most stores have gotten away from that. We cut all of our own meat. More and more of the meat in the chain stores is not actually cut in the store. A lot more are going toward pre-packaging. We make our hamburger from fresh cuts of chuck or sirloin. We don’t use the commercial tubes that are pre-ground at a factory facility. We cut the meat and grind it three times and package it. We make our own in-store sausages. Within the deli, we cook our ham, turkey, and roast beef for cold cuts. They have no preservatives. Our rotisserie chickens are Allen’s Smart Natural and they’re not injected with any flavoring. The grocery association that we buy from has a meat counselor who comes down every couple of months and shows us new tricks and new trends. We’re not out of touch down here at all.

What are some of the newer items that you carry?
Eddie: We now have an in-store bakery. We installed the ovens last year and we offer our own breads, cookies, muffins, and pies. We are also the only outlet on Island to carry Eileen Blake’s pies. A few years ago when the price of spices shot up, we started buying in bulk and packaging under our own label. We can undercut the national brands that way. We have a very good variety and they’ve become really popular. The industry has been going more toward prepared foods, and we’re looking forward to expanding our selection in the near future for the convenience of our customers.

What makes your store unique?
Eddie: We try to be competitively priced throughout the store. Our everyday low prices are what really drive the business. The industry is constantly changing and adding new products. In order to change and evolve you have to keep up. We listen to what our customers are looking for. That’s very important to us. We try to accommodate them as best we can.

What are some of the challenges to operating a business on the Vineyard?
Donna: One thing that is challenging is the logistical aspect of it — getting the products here. You have to deal with boats and weather and wind. There are a lot of factors involved. We have to make the Steamship reservations for our truck a year in advance.

Is it hard to maintain a year-round business?
Eddie: Back in the early days, the reason we were able to open all year is that we got big year-round accounts. We supplied the Coast Guard station in Menemsha and a lot of the fishing boats. Now we have a loyal year-round clientèle that supports us in the wintertime. It’s a small town and a small Island community, especially in the winter. I think our customers appreciate that we know a lot of them by name. I like to think that we treat our employees and our customers like family. There are people we see every day. It comes up in conversation with us a lot. “We haven’t seen Mrs. Jones for a while. I wonder if she’s on vacation.”

Is it difficult working together as a family?
Eddie: It’s very important to keep family and business separate. When we’re home we try not to discuss work and when we’re at work we try to keep it to business. It’s challenging because a lot of the times the two intertwine, but we each have our own area of responsibility in the store.

How many employees do you have?
Donna: Right now 23. In the winter we have between 23 and 25. We add about ten in the summer.
Some of our employees have been with us for over 10 years. Mark Washington has been here for 30 years. We’re able to retain our staff. We don’t have as much turnover.

How has Oak Bluffs changed over the years?
Donna: When I first came here, the street in front of the post office was a street and not a mall. The businesses that are still around from those days are DaRosa’s, Linda Jean’s, Giordano’s, and the Corner Store.
Eddie: In 1947 when we opened the store, the industry was very competitive. There were five other markets in Oak Bluffs. Tony’s and ourselves are the only ones remaining. They all specialized. You went to one for meat, one for produce, one for bread. When we opened, self-service was something relatively new, where the customer helped himself from the shelves instead of handing a shopping list to a clerk. Our original name was Reliable Self Service Market and we were located in the space where Basics is now. In 1960 my grandfather bought five stores and combined them into one grocery store.

What changes have you made over the years?
Donna: There’s a constant upgrading to the building and the infrastructure.

Do you think the business will carry on to the next generation?
Eddie: We’ll see. There are six grandchildren now. I have twin boys, Robby and Teddy, and two girls, Kelly and Maggie. Jen has two girls, Kaitlyn and Emily.
Donna: The littlest one, Margaret, who’s six, likes to run the register. She comes behind the counter and scans the items.