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T&T hires real estate ‘guru’ to oversee U.S. expansion

Chris Pine joins Loblaw-owned chain
Chris Pine and Tina Lee, T&T Supermarkets
Chris Pine and Tina Lee. Photography courtesy T&T Supermarkets

Asian supermarket chain T&T Supermarkets has named Chris Pine its new head of real estate.

Pine will oversee the Asian grocery retailer’s expansion into the key U.S. market. T&T currently operates 33 stores in Canada, and is set to open its first U.S. store in Bellevue, Washington sometime next year.

Pine was previously executive vice-president of anchors and big box leasing at Brookfield Properties, and has amassed a deep understanding of the U.S. market over the course of his 25-year career.

His experience in the grocery segment includes a nearly seven-year stint as vice-president of real estate and development with Whole Foods, where he played a key role in the chain’s North American and European expansion, which included opening between 25 to 30 stores per year.

READ: T&T Supermarkets preps second location in downtown Toronto

“I view T&T as one of the best supermarket operators I’ve ever come across,” says Pine of his decision to join the company. “The level of execution that [it] brings to the market is unparalleled.”

He likens the chain’s evolution to that of Whole Foods, which he describes as one of the best grocers in the U.S. “I just see the same thing in T&T,” he says. “I see [it] as being a leader in the U.S. not just in the Asian supermarket category, but as a grocer performing at the top level.”

His admiration also extends to T&T’s parent, Loblaw Companies Limited. He says that while working with Whole Foods in the early part of the 2000s, he and his team would regularly visit its stores for inspiration. 

READ: T&T Supermarkets to open second store in Quebec

And while lauding the chain’s operational excellence under CEO Tina Lee, Pine says it also boasts unsurpassed quality and variety in both fresh and prepared food, as well as unique centre-aisle offerings that differentiate it from competitors.

“Just that presentation alone is so powerful, and so different to what supermarkets in the U.S. bring to the table,” he says. “People are open to new cuisines, experimentation with food, and it’s really all about discovery. ‘What can we discover at a T&T store that we can’t in others?’”

Opening in Bellevue’s Marketplace at Factoria mall next year, T&T’s first U.S. location will be 76,000 square-feet, making it the largest Asian supermarket in Washington state. The 300-person store will not only benefit from Bellevue’s proximity to Canada, says Pine, but also staff’s enthusiasm and excitement about food.

“The visual presentation of the store is powerful, but even more powerful is the people that Tina has working in the stores,” he says. “She’s such an enthusiastic and powerful leader, that it’s felt when you walk into the stores.”

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