In 1956, three Italian immigrant brothers, Tommy, Joe, and Gus Longo, opened Broadway Fruit Market, a 1,500-square-foot shop at the corner of Yonge Street and Castlefield Avenue in North Toronto.
The store did half of its business through telephone ordering and delivery. Sixty-five years later, Longo Brothers Fruit Market Inc. BB #:154544 Vaughan, ON, had grown into an independent grocery force in the Ontario region, with 36 stores and more than 6,500 employees.
John Russell, president of J.E. Russell Produce Limited BB #:115731 in Toronto, began working with the last of the original three Longo brothers in the late 1960s. What he finds remarkable, in this day and age, was still being able to speak directly with a family member when conducting business.
“Everyone in the wholesale business—from the growers to trucking and logistics, warehouses, and distributors—has the highest regard for the family and the business,” Russell continues. “They’ve been totally committed to their suppliers, their customers, and their own people.”
Further, he adds, the company’s “independent feel, like it’s a one-off store—has been key to its success.”
Whether its independent spirit or family ownership has been most dominant in Longo’s identity and success is being put to the test.
As of March 2021, Empire Company Limited BB #:137787, owner of Sobeys, Farm Boy, and other banners, bought an ownership stake in the popular Toronto grocery chain and its ecommerce platform, Grocery Gateway.
“The new partnership with Empire is about making Longo’s and Grocery Gateway stronger and more competitive,” observes Mimmo Franzone, director of produce and floral at Longo Brothers.
“The experience for our guests and team members won’t change,” he says, “and we’ll continue to be family-operated and run independently from the other brands in the Empire portfolio. The exciting part is the scale and resourcing this partnership brings to our business to help fuel our next chapter of growth.”
This is an excerpt from the Toronto & Ontario supplement to the May/June 2021 issue of Produce Blueprints Magazine. Click here to read the whole issue.