Longtime Carmel resident relishes chance to connect with grocery customers 


For more than 30 years, Kenny Newell has been bringing smiles to local grocery customers with a friendly greeting, attentive service and often a pun.

He began working at O’Malia Food Market on 116th Street in September 1989 soon after moving to Indiana (he was born in Chicago and previously lived in Washington state, Germany and San Antonio). The Carmel resident worked at various O’Malia locations until 2017, when the closure of its parent company shuttered the last remaining location in Brookshire Village Shoppes at 126th Street and Gray Road. For a time after that he worked at Broccoli Bill’s in Noblesville.

He ended up working at Goodwill and missing his former industry when he learned that Needler’s would be opening a grocery store in the final O’Malia’s space – and they wanted to hire him. So, he returned to the shopping center as an employee when Needler’s opened in August 2021.

Newell, who has suffered from depth perception issues (that prevent him from driving) since being hit by a car at age 2, will celebrate his 60th birthday Aug. 21. He recently spoke with Current about his job, ability to connect with customers and hobbies outside of work.

What do you most enjoy about working in grocery stores?

I love being able to bag groceries and carry them out. I wish there were more people (to carry out groceries for). Some people will want me to carry their groceries out to the car, and that’s what I really miss — I got to know them more.

You will often use a joke or pun as an icebreaker with a customer. Do you have a favorite one?

Sometimes when people are buying lettuce, I’ll ask them if they would like another one. And they’ll ask if something is wrong with that one, and I’ll say, ‘No, it’s just that two heads are better than one.’ I don’t know how many times people have heard certain jokes. I’m sure they’ve heard them over and over again.

Why do you feel it’s important to bring a smile to customers?

I never know what people are going through, so I try to be interested in their life and take an interest in things that are going on in their life. That’s something I learned from my mom.

Do you have any plans to retire?

Maybe, when I win the lottery. I know what I’m going to do when that happens – I’m going to move to the mountains in Colorado so I can ski all winter. My aunt (in Denver) got me into downhill snow skiing (in a program) that teaches blind people to ski. Everybody in the program gets their own private instructor and they have us wear a bib so people will watch out for us. I like to play with people, ski real close to people and then all of a sudden ski away.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I love to play the piano, and I like to read a lot. I used to be in the choir at St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church, and I used to be an usher at that church.

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Kenny Newell with his father, Donald Newell, at a family wedding in 1993. Kenny was an O’Malia Food Market employee at the time. (Photo courtesy of Sandy LaClave)

Heartfelt gratitude

When Kenny Newell’s mother, Susan B. Newell, died in May, many of his customers and other community members gathered meal gift cards and other forms of support to help him through a tough time.

Newell said he personally thanked those he could, but he said he was not able to determine from whom many of the items came. To those he couldn’t personally thank, he wishes to express his heartfelt gratitude.