Oklahoma lost a shrewd businessman last week and an icon of my hometown of Midwest City. Nick Harroz Jr., the founder of Crest Foods, died March 12. He was 93.
During my childhood, my mother regularly shopped (still does) at Crest, which opened in 1964 on Reno Avenue in Midwest City. Following Nick’s motto of “Stack it high and sell it cheap,” the discount grocery — which is open round-the-clock, including major holidays — later grew to eight metro stores.
My twin sister and I donned white shirts and bow ties to work as “sack boys” in the original store one Saturday in the spring of 1976 and wrote about it for a women’s lib piece in the Midwest City High School’s “Bomber Beam” newspaper. Years earlier, in elementary school, I had learned a hard lesson there involving penny bubble gum.
Based on comments I’ve heard from my classmates, from Nick’s son Bruce and others on Facebook, pennies very well might lie at the core of Nick Harroz’s legacy.
A friend of my parents liked to tell the story of his being one cent short on a grocery bill. He laid down a $100 bill, which Harroz cashed for the penny owed.
My classmate Becky Morgan-Breen, who worked some 10 years for Harroz, said one of Nick’s favorite sayings was “If you watch your pennies, your dollars will fall in place.”
Bomber Robert Rummell, who graduated a few years ahead of me and cut meat there for seven years, remembers Harroz gave only 5-cent raises, two or three times a year. “On Wednesdays, he would get the sale papers from groceries within 50 miles,” Rummell said, “and meet or beat the ad by a penny.”
Jon Wheeler, a former ’75-’76 sacker, said of Harroz, “You respected him, but also feared and, sometimes, couldn’t stand him. I’ll always remember the first time I messed up on the way I was sacking and Nick yelling from up in the platform office for something I deserved, like putting eggs or bread on the bottom,” he said.
Harroz, who Wheeler said always kept a long, unlit cigar in his mouth, treated his customers with kindness and respect, “but when needed, he would stand his ground,” he said.
Classmate Warren Griffis, who worked in Crest for a merchandizing company in the early ’80s, can attest to that. Griffis witnessed Nick and his sons confront a customer about writing hot checks. “The matter was taken out to the parking lot, where the scuffle ensued,” Griffis said. “Nick’s nose was broken and I believe an earlobe of one of the boys was bitten off,” he said.
Classmate Liz Parks Broadway, who worked as a cashier in the summer of ’78, remembered a time when a customer complained the store bruised her peaches. “About 10 minutes after she checked out, the phone at my check stand rang — it was Nick, telling me a lady had called to complain,” Broadway said.
“I wasn’t having a very good day myself, she said, so I snapped, ‘I didn’t throw her damn peaches! He was quiet for a minute, then said, ‘OK, I’ll take care of her.’”