Bemidji, MN (NNCNOW.com) - A Bemidji grocery store owner, approaching retirement, could have sold his business to another company for a lot of money. Instead, Joe Lueken, of Lueken's Village Foods, sold it to the people he knows best – his employees.
"I said, 'at this time I'm not interested'," said Lueken of his response to companies that inquired about buying his stores.
Through the Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP), the more than 400 employees at Lueken's supermarkets, two in Bemidji and one in North Dakota, will now hold partial ownership of the store, all without having to pay a dime.
"He could have easily went out and got bids from six companies, easily, and say - who wants to pay the most? And he didn't do that," said Lueken President & CEO, Brent Sicard.
The move might mean less money for Lueken, who has been in the grocery business for 46 years, but it has the potential to make his employees a lot more money.
"When it happened it was like, well, that's exactly what Joe would do," said Sicard of Lueken's decision.
Sicard knows Lueken's compassion first-hand. Sicard started working for Lueken as a janitor, then worked his way up to CEO.
"Everyone's got a Joe story," said Sicard of Lueken's reputation for caring for his employees.
It's a story heard throughout the store.
"It's really cool because one of my personal goals was owning a business myself and now I can say that I've done that at the age of 22 already," said employee Anthony Lamb.
Joe Lueken wouldn't have it any other way. He says after working hard at the company through the years, his employees deserve ownership.
"They're part of the family," he said,"I love my store. I love my employees."
Lueken will hand over ownership to his employees at the end of the year. In his retirement he says he plans on traveling the world with his wife.