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07/02/2015

Italian Centre opens first Calgary store

Edmonton independent now looking at more stores in Alberta, Saskatchewan

Italian Centre Shop president Teresa Spinelli’s concept for her four-store Alberta chain of European food stores is simple: bring a little bit of Italy to the Prairies.

No store exemplifies this better than her new Calgary store (pictured), whose décor is meant to emulate a Milan street scene, complete with Italian music.

The store, which opened Thursday in the Willow Park neighbourhood, is Spinelli’s first supermarket outside Edmonton, where she has three Italian Centre supermarkets already.

At 18,000 square feet, the Calgary store is the largest in the Italian Centre fleet and, according to Spinelli, “the coolest.”

“It’s a cultural experience. It’s like stepping into Italy,” she says of the store, designed by Sid Assaf of Edmonton’s City Interview Design Office.

The heart, she says, is the delicatessen, with 150 kinds of meat and lots to sample from all over the world.

Spinelli prides herself on her butcher shop, which carries beef from North American Piedmontese cattle, a breed once unique to Italy that was imported into Canada in the 1970s. She brought the fresh meat first to an Edmonton store and now in Calgary.

The bakery, meanwhile, sends the scent of fresh bread wafting through the store. Spinelli’s baker fires up the ovens at 2 a.m. and begins the day’s production of potato loaves, ciabatta, Russian black rye, baguettes, croissant.

Another hallmark is “the Cathedral of Cheese,” a 20-foot by 40-foot wall of 200 cheese, some imported from Europe, some from Canada.

The store also stocks 100 kinds of olive oil, 100 different espresso beans (the most popular being Kimbo) varieties of imported canned tomatoes, Italian truffles and a large variety of olives and waters imported from all over Europe.

Products come from all over, Spinelli says, including the U.K., France, Portugal, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Hungary and Argentina, bought from Canadian distributors like Jan K. Overweel and some from overseas exporters.

The new store also features a 60-seat Italian café that serves sandwiches.

The Italian Centre Shop was founded by Spinelli’s father Frank in 1959 in Edmonton.

After her father passed away, in 2000, Spinelli found herself president of Italian Centre.

At first she did not enjoy the job, she says. But a period of soul searching followed and she soon embraced the business.

“It’s not about selling salami,” she says. “It’s about people, it’s about family, it’s about sitting down to dinner. I love my customers and I love my staff.”

Spinelli’s passion has since been rewarded with several awards. She won a Canadian Grocer Star Women in Grocery award last year. This year, she landed in 21st spot on the Profit and Chatelaine magazines W100 list of women entrepreneurs, with three-year revenue growth of 37 per cent.

Italian Centre’s four stores now employ about 470 people, about 60 per cent of which are full time.

Spinelli is now contemplating further expansion with another store in Calgary, and maybe Red Deer, Alta., and then Saskatchewan.