All in the family: Longo’s celebrates 60 years in style

Anniversary goings-on include store openings, new products and Elvis

As a young girl during summer break, Rosanne Longo would often accompany her father Gus as he travelled from the family home in Burlington, Ont. to the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto.

There she would meet her cousin, and the two would play together amidst the cries of vendors hawking fruits and vegetables that would eventually make their way to the small chain of grocery stores bearing the family name.

“We’d have the run of the market,” says Longo, now chief spokesperson and brand ambassador for the grocery business founded by her father and his late brothers, Tommy and Joe. “It wasn’t the safest place to be running around as little kids, but it was quite the atmosphere.”

Longo’s has come a long way from its humble beginnings in 1956 as a 1,500 sq.-ft. store in midtown Toronto. The first store originally went by the name Broadway, and billed itself as “the finest fruit market.” At the time, eight family members shared an apartment above the store. (That's Joe Longo in the store in 1958 in photo above.)

Sixty years later, the independent chain boasts 29 stores across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), with three more slated to open in the next 18 months.

“There’s a huge sense of pride,” says Longo of the company’s growth. “It’s a big privilege to be part of a family business, and a big responsibility to honour legacy and maintain the company values”—which she describes as honesty, trustworthiness and mutual respect—and culture.

She is one of approximately 22 members of the Longo family working with the grocery chain, which is currently in the midst of a 60th anniversary celebration that includes in-store events, new store openings (including its first outside the GTA), and a series of additions to its private-label brand Longo Bros. Signature. That line has grown to nearly 1,500 products since its 1991 introduction.

On April 21, father and daughter will reprise their earliest roles with Longo’s at its Toronto Leaside location, which means that Rosanne Longo will be sweeping and packing customer groceries—just as she did after school and on weekends as a young girl. At some point, she might even make her way to the deli to cut meat. (“I hope I don’t cut my finger off,” she jokes.)

Longo originally pursued a career as an accountant before eventually returning to the family business. “I didn’t really have any intention of becoming part of the family business, but in accounting you’re always looking at the past,” she says. “I wanted to be a part of getting those numbers to the future.” The numbers for the chain are impressive, including a staff of 5,500 and reported annual revenues of more than $10 million.

Each of the planned 29 in-store celebrations will reflect the decade that store opened, with Longo saying that stores have been given a budget and “full rein” to bring the era to life. So far, the celebrations have included everything from Elvis impersonators to ’60s-era hippies.

The next 12 months will also see the opening of three new Longo’s locations: An approximately 40,000 square-foot store in Ancaster, Ont. followed by a new location in Guelph in the first half of 2017, followed by Ajax in the fall of 2017.

They are part of a wave of openings that has seen the chain double in size, from 15 to 29 stores, since 2008. Longo says that store openings are approached with rigour, noting it took seven years for the company to finally respond to pleas for a new store in Milton. “It will be controlled and calculated, and based on customer demand,” she says of the rollout.

The rollout of the new Longo Bros. Signature products, meanwhile, is proceeding briskly, with four new products having already been introduced this year: Campari and Rustica Tomato Pasta Sauce ($4.99), Biscotti Flavour Single Serve Coffee Cups ($7.99), Homestyle Cinnamon Loaf ($5.99) and Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwiches ($4.99).

All of the products are intended to be limited editions, although Longo tells Canadian Grocer that they could become permanent additions to the product line based on customer demand if they prove popular with customers.

To coincide with next month’s issue of its in-store magazine Longo’s Experience, the chain is introducing four new limited-time dips: beet, carrot, roasted butternut squash and sriracha. Based on customer demand, it is also bringing back its Longo’s Signature Sparkling Sodas in both blood orange and lemon flavours.

It seems that everything old really is new again.

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