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Something for everyone

Longo’s new Yonge Sheppard location appeals to a broad demographic of “food explorers”with its convenient location, innovative offerings and stylish decor

As you head up the escalator to the new Longo's store at Toronto’s Yonge Sheppard Centre, you see a small selection of shopping carts dressed up to look like various vehicles: police cars, fire engines, and even a fun pink sports car. Is this an indication that the 40,000-sq.-ft. grocery store is geared to young families? That’s partially the case, says the store’s manager John Visconti.

“It’s a very mixed crowd,” he says of the customers who have been coming in since the store opened at the end of July. “We have a lot of families with very young kids, and we also have an elderly crowd.” Then there are the office workers that come in for lunch (“we’ve got a great lunch crowd”) or to pick a few items up on the way home. Located in North York, the area has traditionally been considered suburban, but like many Canadian suburbs today, the neighbourhood is becoming increasingly urban.


“We’re between an urban and suburban market. It’s great that we cater to both here,” says Visconti. “So you have that business crowd, that everyday hustle and bustle, going to work, getting lunch, getting some groceries on your way home—which is more like an urban lifestyle—yet we also have a lot of families who live near our store who come shopping every day or do big weekend shops.”

The store occupies the third level of the Yonge Sheppard Centre, a mixed-use building that combines residential, commercial and retail spaces. The centre has been around since the 1970s, but the addition of Longo’s was part of a major revitalization project that’s been underway for nearly a decade. It has seen the addition of a new LA Fitness facility on the second level, an expanded food court, the addition of trendy new restaurants, revamped interiors and exteriors, a new 35-story residential tower (still in the works), and more. According to Longo’s spokesperson Rosanne Longo, convenience was what drew the independent retailer to this spot. “There’s access to the TTC , there’s parking available, and it’s a multi-use complex—so it’s a one-stop shop.”

Near the entrance of the store is a fresh juice bar, something that’s quite new to the Longo’s chain but has quickly become one of the more popular features at the Yonge Sheppard Centre. Guests can have fresh-squeezed juices or smoothies made to order here, and Visconti expects this will become increasingly popular with people who have just finished a workout at the fitness centre downstairs as awareness grows. Across from the juice bar is a Starbucks, something that’s become a staple in many Longo’s locations.

As you walk past the Starbucks and juice bar into the store, the vast produce section is one of the first things you see. “As much as it’s a basic department— it’s in all our stores—that’s the department that all our guests gravitate to,” explains Visconti, who notes that Longo’s has been known for its fresh produce since the business began as a fruit market back in 1956. “More than 60 years later, still strong in our stores. Even at a new location and such a different mix of customers, you know, young families are looking for that fresh food.”

Next to the produce section is one of the more unique highlights of the store: the Living Well section, a new concept that’s only been tried out in a handful of Longo’s locations at this point. This health-focused section groups together products with health and wellness attributes from a variety of categories. It features everything from freezers stocked with healthy frozen meals and fridges filled with kefirs and kombuchas, to shelves lined with energy bars, organic snacks, and even vitamins, supplements and plant-based protein powders. “It’s a section within a section, a one-stop-shop for people who are looking for healthier alternatives,” says Longo, who notes there’s also a registered dietitian on hand to answer customer questions.

As you continue through the store, there are rows upon rows of the usual grocery items, along with a traditional Longo’s bakery, an extensive cheese section, and well-stocked meat and seafood sections. But it’s the unique kitchen offerings, says Visconti, that make this location really stand out. “There’s our pasta bar, our burger bar with carving station, and all these nice offerings we offer our guests that they probably couldn’t get anywhere around here,” he says. He’s particularly proud of the fresh pasta bar, which allows shoppers to enjoy a restaurant-quality pasta dish made right before their eyes featuring the ingredients and sauces of their choosing.

Then there’s a build-your-own poke bowl station; a mochi (Japanese-style ice cream) case; homemade gourmet pizzas; an impressive salad bar that features everything from curried couscous salad to pennette pasta salad with feta; and a hot food bar with a broad array of choices, from basa with sundried tomatoes to garlic butter shrimp with peas and mushrooms. Customers can take any of this home, or can sit and eat it in the spacious 150-seat dining area at the far end of the store. Next to the dining area is the Corks Beer & Wine Bar, for customers who want to sit and enjoy an alcoholic beverage while they take a break from shopping; and next to that is The Loft Cooking School, a stylish-looking room where cooking classes take place.

Stylish, in fact, is a word that comes to mind when strolling this store. It is the fourth Longo’s location to incorporate this new “look,” which features bright lighting, varied artistic-looking fonts on all the signage, and a lot of “small touches” that really make the decor special, according to Visconti.

“Our target customers are the ‘food explorers’— people who are interested and passionate about food like we are—so I think our interior design is just modernized to reflect that; it’s bright and fresh inside and just appealing to the senses,” says Longo. Another interesting touch Visconti points out is the incorporation of black-and-white historic photos of the Longo family at their stores, blown up on several of the walls, giving the store a link to its historic roots while simultaneously reflecting a modern aesthetic. A 1950s photo of an apron-clad “Grandpa Longo” is featured in the produce section, for instance, while a photo of Gus and Tommy Longo from the same era adorns the wall above the bread section.

Longo’s appears to be in a real growth phase, expecting to have a total of 36 stores (all in Ontario) open by the end of 2019. In addition to the Yonge Sheppard location, they opened an innovative new small-format, convenience-based store in Toronto’s Hudson’s Bay Centre called Pronto Eats at the end of the summer; and two new stores are slated to be open in the fall—one in East Gwillimbury (north of Toronto) and one in Toronto’s Liberty Village.

Visconti, who has been with the chain for 25 years, says things have been “fantastic” at the Yonge Sheppard store since it opened this summer. “We’ve had great feedback from our guests,” he says. “They’re happy to have us here and are really taking advantage of a lot of our special features.”

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’September/October issue.

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