Robert S. Ukrop is president and CEO of Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods, which supplies more than 1,500 stores in 31 states.
James E. Ukrop is a founding member of New Richmond Ventures, which has backed more than a dozen startups.
How you know them: Brothers James E. “Jim” Ukrop and Robert S. “Bobby” Ukrop ran the Ukrop’s Super Markets chain that was started in 1937 by their parents, Joe and Jacquelin Ukrop. Jim Ukrop also was instrumental in starting First Market Bank in 1997 that had branches in Ukrop’s stores.
The Ukrops sold the grocery chain in 2010.
Bobby Ukrop now is president and CEO of Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods, which ships bakery and prepared foods to more than 1,500 stores in 31 states.
In 2011, Jim Ukrop helped launch New Richmond Ventures, a network of investors who help fund local startup businesses.
How they shaped the region: The Ukrop’s Super Markets chain was a Richmond-area fixture for nearly 75 years.
For many of those years, Ukrop’s was the top local grocery chain in terms of market share. Customers praised the stores’ customer service, and the stores’ prepared foods — particularly the fried chicken, White House Rolls and seafood salad — and its baked goods had passionate fans.
“All we were ever trying to do was take care of our customers,” Bobby Ukrop said. “It didn’t start with me. It started with my dad being innovative many years ago.”
Even now, Jim Ukrop said, people come up to him regularly to say how much they miss the stores but also thank him for charitable donations, including scholarships.
“I miss it, but I am glad I am still not in the business, because I enjoy what I am doing now,” Jim Ukrop said.
“We had a lot of wonderful employees. Fortunately, Martin’s came in. Our people still had jobs, and that was the most important thing,” he said.
“If we had not sold our company when we did, it would not be worth very much today based on the fact you have Wegmans coming in. It’s almost like the North meets the South in Richmond, with Publix coming in from one direction and Wegmans coming in from the other.
“This is going to be the most over-stored market in the country. If we had waited five more years (to sell), we would have been up the creek without a paddle.”
The grocery chain employed about 6,000 people at its peak, Bobby Ukrop said. Ukrop’s Homestyle Foods now employs about 450 people, he said.
The brothers’ Ukrop’s Dress Express business started in 1993 to provide uniforms for the grocery chain’s employees. Today, that company provides custom-branded uniforms and corporate apparel for theme parks, supermarkets and many other businesses — for more than 1.2 million employees.
Beyond the grocery stores, the Ukrop brothers’ stamp on the community is evident by their charitable donations and ventures and service on boards of various organizations.
“As a company, 10 percent of our pretax profits always went back to the community,” said Bobby Ukrop, a co-founder and past president of Sports Backers, a local organization that puts on races, including the Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K, and other events that encourage people to live active lifestyles.
He also is involved with SwimRVA, a nonprofit that owns and operates the Collegiate School Aquatics Center in Chesterfield County and conducts water safety education programs.
“So many people in our region don’t know how to swim … We are trying to change that. We are trying to drown-proof Richmond,” he said.
Others that benefited over the years from the Ukrop family philanthropy include the CenterStage Foundation — Jim Ukrop is a former chairman — and Richmond’s annual Christmas parade. In the 1980s, Bobby Ukrop was fundraising chairman for an effort to build The Diamond baseball stadium.
At New Richmond Ventures, Jim Ukrop and business partners Bob Mooney and Ted Chandler have backed more than a dozen startup businesses, including Evatran, the Richmond-based maker of wireless charging stations for electric vehicles, and natural foods company Health Warrior.
The 14 companies in which New Richmond Ventures has invested have raised more than $125 million in equity, according to the group’s website.
“What we do at NRV is we look for companies that are solving big problems, and we provide capital, counsel and connections,” Chandler said.
“Jim is a futurist in the sense that he understands societal megatrends that are where the new business growth will come in the future.”