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1-on-1 With Donny Rouse, CEO of Rouses Markets

WGB’s July Endcap guest chats about risks and rewards, trust and teamwork and his affinity for his native Gulf Coast
Illustration by Olivier Balez

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Welcome to Endcap, Donny. Let’s begin by discussing Rouses’ rapid growth, which has leaped from 16 stores in Louisiana to 55 across three states in a matter of 10 years. That’s a very impressive achievement, and I assume, also highly rewarding. But it was obviously not without risks. What’s one thing the experience has taught you about yourself and your teammates that you are most proud of?

DR: When we began our rapid growth in 2007—that’s the year we acquired [the now-defunct] A&P’s Southern division—my grandfather, father and uncle were heavily involved. My grandfather continued to help guide the company until his death in 2009. Risk can come with great rewards. You have to trust yourself and the team you’ve built to make the right decisions. We have a great team that truly works as a team—for them, it’s never just about individual commitments; it’s always about the group effort. We’re also one of the largest employers on the Gulf Coast. I’m very proud of that.

As grandson of founder Anthony Rouse Sr., it would not be a stretch to say you grew up in your family’s stores. Please briefly describe the differences and similarities of the leadership styles of your grandfather; your dad, Donald; and yourself.

DR: I wouldn’t be who I am without my father and grandfather. They were both very hands-on, and not just with the business. My grandfather was always up on a ladder fixing something. But as you grow—and we continue to grow, with four new stores opening this year—you really need to take on some of the structures of a larger company. We have a great management team in place. I trust them. So, while I’m actively involved, and I push them, I give them the room they need to succeed.

Veteran grocery exec Steve Black, who joined Rouses as president and COO in 2016, was quoted as saying, “If there’s one supermarket in the country that’s got it all together, it’s Rouses.” How would you explain the lagniappe that he’s referring to?

DR: I think it’s our combination of best quality and best price (that was my grandfather’s motto) plus service. We want you to have an incredible experience every time you shop. We want you to feel proud of the Rouses Markets where you live, work and shop.

Rouses is renowned for its fresh departments, but seafood is its particular strong suit. What’s important to note about that fact that makes you most proud?

DR: We’re right here on the Gulf Coast. The seafood industry creates a lot of jobs, from the fishermen who work the waters to the chefs and cooks in our great restaurants. We make Gulf seafood a priority. We make everything local a priority. We buy more local products and support more local farmers and fishermen than anyone else.

Lightning Round

What is your favorite season and why?

Hunting season. I grew up hunting ducks, deer, rabbits and wild hogs. Deer season is my favorite.

Name one company you admire and why.

It’s another local company, Raising Cane’s, a fast-food restaurant chain specializing in chicken fingers that was founded by my friend Todd Graves. It’s the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the United States. I appreciate his commitment to quality.

Who was your best friend growing up? Are you still friends?

Lee Veillon, our HR director, has been one of my best friends since grammar school.

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