Robert M. “Bob” Piccinini, the congenial and savvy chairman of the board and majority shareholder of the Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets empire, died Tuesday morning, March 24, 2015, at his Modesto home. He was 73.
Word of his death slowly circulated Tuesday afternoon. Later in the afternoon, Save Mart released an official statement: “The Piccinini family announced with sadness today the passing of Robert “Bob” Piccinini, the Chairman of Save Mart Supermarkets. In life, Bob was most passionate about two things – his family and his company. He purchased Save Mart from the Piccinini and Tocco families in 1985 after working his way up through the ranks – box boy, truck driver, store manager, Vice President of Real Estate and on to President and Chief Executive Officer. He is credited with taking Save Mart from a homegrown, Central Valley chain to the regional competitor it is today. …”
Piccinini’s health declined over the past two years, said people close to him, and he reportedly died of congestive heart failure. He retired as Save Mart CEO in September and left the day-to-day operations to Steve Junqueiro, Greg Hill and his daughter Nicole Piccinini Pesco.
CGA President Ron Fong
The California Grocers Association and its 400-plus member companies were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Save Mart Supermarkets Chairman Bob Piccinini on Tuesday.
Bob was a true giant of the food industry, guiding Save Mart’s growth to become one of Northern California’s largest supermarket chains. He served as CGA Chairman of the Board and in 1996 was inducted into the CGA Educational Foundation Hall of Achievement.
CGA extends its condolences to the Piccinini family. He will be missed.
Born in Modesto and raised in Manteca, Piccinini broke into the grocery business when he was 12 at his father’s store, Mike’s Market. He pressed labels onto packaged meats and earned 50 cents an hour.
Sixty years later, Piccinini leaves a major imprint as owner and operator of more than 240 stores in Northern and Central California under the Save Mart, S-Mart, Lucky, FoodMaxx and Maxx Value banners. Under his stewardship, Save Mart became California’s largest family-owned grocery store chain. Piccinini was ranked 243rd in the 2013 Forbes list of wealthiest Americans, with a net worth estimated at $2.3 billion.
Piccinini’s passion for sports was lifelong, though he did not excel at athletics. He was a minority owner of the Golden State Warriors and owned several minor-league baseball teams over the years, including the Modesto A’s. He headed an investment group that nearly purchased the Oakland Athletics in 1999. Piccinini was seen at his courtside seat at Oracle Arena during Monday night’s Golden State win over Washington. In fact, he attended five games during the Warriors’ recent six-game homestand.
“In my mind, his life was cut short, but it was a terrific life,” said Dan Kiser, general manager of the Modesto A’s from 1971 to ’89. Piccinini, who met Kiser while they were students at the University of San Francisco, hired Kiser as GM. “His father, Mike, was in business for himself and was a good instructor,” Kiser said. “Bob worked himself through all the positions at Save Mart. He had a good foundation and carried it throughout his career. He just knew what was necessary to make it work.”
In 1998, Piccinini engineered a revival of the then-sagging Modesto Relays through sponsorship and kept the world-class track meet alive and in Modesto for another decade. His company’s name has been on NASCAR’s Sonoma stop – the Toyota/Save Mart 350 – since 1992. Save Mart Center at Fresno State also was built with a major contribution from Piccinini.
He attended Modesto Junior College, USF and the University of the Pacific and became the Save Mart vice president in 1971 (at age 29) after his father died. The twice-divorced father of four eventually became company president a decade later.
Piccinini always possessed a knack for locating his stores and getting the money for expansion. An expert deal-maker, he took great pride in his company’s growth and prosperity. Last summer, he celebrated his 50th anniversary with Save Mart. “Either you have it or you don’t,” he once said. “It’s more of a case of how to make more good decisions than bad. You could go to school for 12 years and never get it.”
He is survived by children Nicole Pesco, Joseph Piccinini, Alexandria Piccinini and Dominic Piccinini; he was preceded in death by son Michael Piccinini.