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From the



50 years




A Tribute to the memory of

John Fortino 1935 – 2011

John was truly a pioneer, the founding ‘heart’ behind the ‘Supermarket with a Heart’. In every aspect of his life he lived with the highest morals and integrity, which continues to resonate with family, friends, current and former employees. John was a father figure to many young men and women over the years. His patient, calm leadership was matched only by his determination – a model President who was both deeply admired and truly inspirational. His commitment and dedication to family and the community at large has been recognized by receiving the Order of Italy, Italo-Canadian Citizen of the Year, the Heart of Gold award (Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation), the Canadian Achiever Award and induction into the Hamilton Gallery of Distinction, along with many others. He will be missed by all whose lives he touched.

A commemorative monument stands outside the entrance to Fortinos Mall Road, where John visited with friends almost every day after his retirement.


Table of Contents


From the Heart A message from Executive Vice President Vince Scorniaenchi


The Early Years From modest beginnings in 1961 to early expansion – 1961 – 1988


Franchising and Loblaw Companies Rapid growth and competitive challenges – 1988 – 1994


Adventure Years A revolutionary approach creates a new Fortinos’ standard for continued growth – 1994 – 2010


Fortinos Today - A New Beginning On track with a new Head Office team


Fortinos Today - The Stores Profiles of Fortinos’ 20 franchise locations


The Future is Here Profile of Fortinos’ newest franchise location Focus on fresh and added value brings promise of new growth

Special thanks to all who gave of their time and resources to assist in the compilation of this book. From the Heart was produced on behalf of Fortinos Supermarkets and its employees by JAG Communications Inc. Executive Editor: Beverly Wright, Fortinos Publisher/Editor: Gordon Green, JAG Communications Inc. Art Director: Patti Whitefoot-Bobier, JAG Communications Inc. Contributors: David Gruggen Photography, Alisha Arnold


From the

I am pleased to introduce From the Heart, a commemorative book celebrating the successes of Fortinos people over the past 50 years. It has been my good fortune to have been part of this business from the time I was just a teenager, learning the ropes from John Fortino, a caring and visionary man who never lost sight of what is most important in our business – people. After all, anyone with enough money can build stores and buy products to sell – it takes dedicated and skilled people to make it a success. John’s talent for attracting the right individuals, and teaching them the values of hard work, honesty and integrity, laid a foundation that continues to support us as we look forward to the future. From the Heart is dedicated to the untold thousands of employees who have, and who continue to work hard at building a business with real heart that will be a lasting legacy. It is also a tribute to the memory of John, whose vision created far more than a leading chain of supermarkets in Southern Ontario. He took pride in helping people to learn, improve their lives, and to feel valued. We have seen dramatic changes through the years, forcing us to evolve and grow in order to survive many challenges. In the early days of our business, ethnic independent retailers flourished as the chain stores focused on dry goods, leaving the independents to focus on fresh foods. Then came the ’80s and an economic recession that sparked the birth of discount stores, creating a new set of challenges for Fortinos and other small independent operators. As the discount stores started to falter by the late ’80s and early ’90s, the chains started buying up independents like Fortinos to help improve their approach to fresh-food departments. That lead to a decade of chain-store dominance starting in the mid-1990s. As the recession of the early ’90s faded, consumer confidence and spending increased, giving the chain stores a chance to grow and prosper.



Today, after one of the toughest economic periods in our history, the pendulum has swung. Discount stores are back in a big way, forcing everyone in the industry to be at the top of their game to win customer loyalty while maintaining tight cost controls to remain competitive. Those who survive and prosper will have the ability to meet the changing needs and tastes of today’s consumers. We have made significant progress since re-establishing our head office in Hamilton in 2010, thanks to the commitment and leadership of a confident support team. Many of our people have taken on new and broader responsibilities than ever before, and have risen to the challenge. We are hearing positive feedback from all fronts – our franchise owners, our employees and our customers – that things are better. That includes improvements in all of our fresh departments – produce, fresh meats, deli, cheeses and more. We are re-energizing our prepared fresh foods-to-go program, with exciting new developments you will read about in this book. The re-launch of our flyer is winning rave reviews. Customers have rated the Fortinos flyer as the best in the industry, and for good reason. A strong focus on our fresh offering, along with competitive pricing in grocery are giving people good reason to once again make Fortinos their favourite food store. As part of our focus on being the best, we have also moved toward a higher ratio of full-time employees, while creating opportunities through growth for career advancement. All of these factors are coming together to help everyone in the organization feel very positive about our futures. It has been my pleasure to work with a dedicated team of people who throughout the years have made Fortinos a special place to work, and to shop. I look forward to many more years of working together, building a lasting legacy for many generations to come.



Early Years John Fortino stands at the doorway to the original shop he and partners Stan Filice and Umberto Spagnuolo opened in 1961. Photo was taken in 2002.

The story of Fortinos begins in a tiny storefront in an area known as the Delta in the heart of Hamilton. It’s 1961, and European immigrants are flocking to the city where steel mills and manufacturing provide opportunities for work and a new life. The idea for the store is simple – give immigrants a fresh market that feels familiar, a shop where they can find fresh-cut meats and produce. In other words, give them a taste of home.



IMES WERE TOUGH, AND central Hamilton was a tough place to do business. The three founding partners – John Fortino and brothers-in-law Umberto Spagnuolo and Stan Filice – were the third to take on the location at King Street and Glendale Avenue. It didn’t take long for the three partners to feel they were onto something with their little storefront that carried the Fortinos name over the door. “In the first week we made $500,” recalls Umberto, a selftaught meat-cutter who manned the 700-square-foot store on his own for the first year. “Then it was $1,000 a week, and soon $3,000.” That didn’t come without hard work. Umberto was in the shop non-stop, cutting meat and organizing displays in the evenings. After a short sleep, he was back for the day serving a steady stream of customers. John and Stan were working full-time at other jobs, but were in the store helping out whenever they had time. The fledgling Fortinos grew steadily busier as word of mouth spread about the quality of its meats and produce. It was particularly renowned for the cuts of veal, a popular choice within the Italian community that longed for the tastes of home.


Fortinos partners pictured with John Fortino (foreground). From left, Franco Joe Carobelli, Oreste Presta, Mario Presta, Tony Scornaienchi, Luciano Scorniaenchi, Stan Filice and Umberto Spagnuolo. Photo was taken in 1981.

Hamilton’s steel business was a magnet for European immigrants seeking a better life in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Umberto, who had moved to Hamilton from Windsor, recalls working away in the wee hours of the morning, especially as the weekend drew near. “It was about 2 in the morning, and it was hot in the shop so I opened the back door. It wasn’t long before a police officer saw the lights on, and walked in to find out what was going on. He looked pretty surprised to see me in there cutting meat.”

“It had the feel of a European market,” recalls Umberto. “People liked that.”

John Fortino flashes his signature smile while serving a customer at the Mohawk and Upper Ottawa store after it opened in 1972.

The three founders were pleased with the early success, and soon were making plans for expansion. In Hamilton, the immigrant population was exploding, concentrated in the central lower city where housing was affordable, and close to jobs in the steel mills at Stelco and Dofasco. That meant a steady and growing stream of customers for the fledgling retailers. And no one was refused, even if they couldn’t afford to pay. John, who often talked about the woman who refused to take his last two dollars in exchange for some apples shortly after he landed in Canada, was always ready to pay it forward. He set up an I.O.U. book – those who were able eventually repaid their debts, those who couldn’t were forgiven. John Fortino quit his labourer’s job at National Sewer Pipe, turned down an offer to work for the Hamilton Street Railway, and joined Umberto with the goal of expanding the store’s produce department. But the space was too tight to accommodate his plans, so John and Umberto negotiated a deal to lease the space next door. Now they had an ‘expansive’ 3,000 square feet to display a variety of new products, including the best fresh produce to be found anywhere in the lower city. “We asked the bank for a loan to fix things, and to buy equipment we needed,” recalls Umberto. “I remember getting a cheque for $18,000. That was a lot of money in those days. I was joking that I was going back to Italy.” Taking over their old space were brothers Mario and Oreste Presta, who converted the space into a barber shop. “We opened up next door, but with haircuts costing 75 cents apiece it was a tough way to make a living,” recalls Mario, who along with Oreste would eventually become investors with their new neighbours. John Fortino, as would be his habit for many

years, jumped into his truck before dawn almost every day to drive to Etobicoke where he would wheel and deal with the vendors at the Ontario Food Terminal, known as the ‘market’ by independent food retailers who flocked there to buy fresh produce. Then he’d load up the truck, and head back to the store to set up his displays and get ready for business. When he was featured in a Canadian Achievers profile years later, John shared more details. “We had an old truck that I bought for maybe $300 or $400. It had no floor in it. Many times it broke down on the highway. In the winter it was cold because we used to have to get to the food terminal so early I’d sit and wait in line to load.” John usually purchased more than the shop could hold, and locals loved checking out the crates and shelves stacked high with fresh produce. “It had the feel of a European market,” recalls Umberto. “People liked that.” Often, John would take one of his young nephews along to the ‘market’ when he was off school for the summer. This youngster would later work part-time at the company’s first store on the Mountain as a young teenager. Vince Scorniaenchi would eventually take over as Executive Vice President. “That was my introduction to the food business as a young boy,” recalls Vince. “It is one of my fondest memories. John would come by with his truck at 4 in the morning to pick me up. The food terminal was such a vibrant place. John knew everyone there and it was as much a social thing as work. I fell in love with the business, but I did it because I enjoyed the time with my Uncle John.” John’s love of produce came to him naturally. Growing up in Cosenza in the northern part of Calabria, his family worked a small farm producing three annual


crops of fruits and vegetables. As a young man, his ambition was to join the police force after a term of service in the army, but he decided instead to come to Canada. “I came in 1954, on November 2. I was 20 years old,” he was quoted in a published profile. “I had my sister and a cousin here. My first job was in construction in building the (Greater Hamilton Shopping Centre on Barton Street East), but I worked only 17 days.” When he wasn’t driving to Toronto to purchase produce, John was driving business another way. Dora Scornaienchi, who along with her husband Luciano would later become partners in the business, recalls John making a weekly trek to Locke Street in his van to help local women who didn’t have transportation. “He’d drive all of us over to the King Street store to do our shopping, and then he would turn around and bring us all back home. It was a lot of work, but he didn’t mind.” The average weekly tab for her groceries was about $40, Dora recalls. And she clearly recalls getting a glimpse of John’s generosity during one of her shopping visits. “I saw him in the store one day loading up three boxes of groceries, and then taking his wallet out to pay for them. I asked, what are you going to do with all those groceries? But they weren’t for him. A customer with a large family had just passed away, and John wanted to be sure his five kids had plenty to eat.” The tiny shop was a family affair, with everyone often pitching in to help out. On Sundays, when everyone got together to celebrate another week of survival, the youngsters would take over the store. “We lived in a big house close to the store,” recalls Stan’s daughter Lucy Caluori. “It would be really busy in the house on Sundays so my dad would throw me the keys and tell us to go play in the shop. It was our playground, I have a lot of great memories of having the shop to ourselves.” Sharing the house at 2 Davenport Street were the three partners and their spouses along with their growing young families. But they were always prepared to make room for friends and relatives landing in Canada, who often ended up on the doorstep. The house was always full because no one was ever turned away. As time rolled by, John shared his vision for what the business could be. “Even then, John’s vision was to grow bigger, to have lots of stores, and I believed that it would happen,” says Umberto. “We worked very hard, and I felt confident that we would grow big and successful in time.”


John Fortino, left, stands in as best man for Luciano and Dora Scornaienchi at their wedding in 1958. It would be another 15 years before Luciano would join him in the grocery business.

“Even then, John’s vision was to grow bigger, to have lots of stores, and I believed that it would happen,” says Umberto. “We worked very hard, and I felt confident that we would grow big and successful in time.” In the late 1960s, the three founding families moved to the newly developing Hamilton Mountain where brand-new bungalows could be had for the handsome sum of $16,000. It was on the Mountain that John Fortino clearly saw their future. “I remember one night John came through the door and said he was going to open another store,” recalls John’s wife, Pileria. As John put it in an interview: “Every day I passed a property with the sign saying for rent. I even remember the number on the sign to call. I called and the people came to my house on Friday, and by Saturday I rented it.” Stan and Umberto were hesitant, but John was committed and convincing. The three set out to find investors who would become shareholders in the dream. They were joined by additional family members ready to invest – Franco Joe Carobelli and his wife Angela, John’s sister; Mario and Annina Presta; Oreste and Vittoria Presta; Tony and Rosina Scornaienchi. Each of the partners borrowed $2,000


Founding Partners

Umberto and Gina Spagnuolo

Angela and Franco (Joe) Carobelli

Anna and Mario Presta

Dora and Luciano Scornaienchi

Maria and Stan Filice

Oreste and Vittoria Presta

Rosina and Tony Scornaienchi


to invest, and put their homes up as a collateral to cover the cost of building leaseholds. That’s when John struck up a lifelong partnership with Jack Morrow of Rosart Properties. Jack’s company would become Fortinos’ property developer, and it all began with construction of a store at Mohawk and Upper Ottawa. In 1972, the partners opened a new era in the history of Fortinos with their 5,000-square-foot supermarket in a plaza on Hamilton’s East Mountain. Each of the partners was ready to work hard to make the business a success. They knew there was more at risk here. They’d be challenging the big boys now – Dominion was operating a supermarket just up the street at Mohawk and Grenadier, while Safeway also had a presence on the Mountain. Another independent, DiPietro’s, would soon open its doors to provide independent competition. Roger Brabant, then the young publisher of a chain of independent newspapers in Hamilton, including the Mountain News, got wind of the new store and decided to pay a call late one afternoon. “I remember walking into the store and there were a bunch of people working away,” recalls Roger. “I said, ‘you’re opening up a new store I want to congratulate someone and wish them well.’ I asked who the owner was. Someone pointed to a man with a handsaw cutting a board. It was John Fortino. I walked over when he finished cutting the board, showed him my newspaper and said ‘I’d like you to put your grand opening ad in my paper. I’ll write the ad for you.’” John looked at the intruder, and cut to the chase. “How much,” he asked. Roger said it would be $200 for a full page, and John replied that was too much. After settling on $100 for the ad, he told Roger to come back the next evening. Roger arrived just past 6 but didn’t leave until after midnight. “John was on the phone wheeling and dealing with suppliers to get the best prices he could for his grand opening.” One of the product features was whole chickens from a local farmer, who after much negotiating agreed to drop his price by a half a cent per pound on a shipment of 1,000 birds. “John said to me, that will be our profit,” says Roger. “That’s when I realized I was dealing with a very honest man.”

John Fortino is pictured with his mother, his wife, Pileria, and their three daughters in the family’s Rapollo Drive home.

“We worked day and night in the beginning because there was no money to hire more people,” says Mario Presta. “You’d go in at 5 in the morning, and never knew when you would get home. Thankfully, we had supportive wives”

Fortinos built a strong reputation for quality meats, and touted it loud and clear in this Mountain News ad from 1974.


A teenage Vince Scorniaenchi was working five nights a week at the Upper Ottawa Fortinos while going to school.

The relationship between Brabant Newspapers and Fortinos flourished. “John told me one day it was important to generate cash flow, even at the expense of profit, so that he could pay off his debts. He told me his highest volume items were things like bread, butter and milk. We agreed we would feature specials on highvolume items every week.” With hot deals being touted in the Mountain News each week, business was booming. But with profits sacrificed at the expense of cash flow, it meant John and the partners had to carry the bulk of the load. “We worked day and night in the beginning because there was no money to hire more people,” says Mario Presta. “You’d go in at 5 in the morning, and never knew when you would get home. Thankfully, we had supportive wives”.

“By using cash flow from the busy Upper Ottawa store, they were able to weather the storm until customers on the West Mountain finally discovered the Fortinos magic.”

Franco Joe Carobelli, who became a master meat cutter under the watchful eye of Umberto and others, was highly regarded for the quality of his meats, especially the veal. “The store was extremely busy, so busy that it was almost impossible to keep the coolers stocked. People would line up and wait to have their orders cut.” The store was open concept, and customers would stand beside the butchers while their orders were cut. Franco was well known for the quality of his cuts, but his no-nonsense approach kept the customers in line. Vince Scorniaenchi, whose father Tony was among the initial seven partners, was 14 when the store opened. “I’ll never forget the opening. We had some very hot features – we had bread at $1 for eight loaves. Bravo vegetable oil was 99 cents for a three-litre tin. We had line-ups out the door, and there were cars lining

John Fortino was passionate about the soccer team he fielded in a competitive Hamilton league during the late 1970s. A young Vince Scorniaenchi, front row, far left, was among John’s recruits both on and off the field.


Upper Ottawa street all the way to Anson Avenue, where I lived at the time. It was like that for two solid days. That store got off to a great start right from the get-go.” That trend continued to build with the store’s tiny parking lot packed to overflowing on weekends, and endless line-ups at the four check-outs. “We used to break up fights in that parking lot every single week – customers were fighting to get parking spots,” says Carmen Fortino, who came to work at the store right out of high school in 1976. Although the store seemed large when it was first built, the fledgling partners learned a hard lesson right off the bat. “When we got in and started setting up, John realized there was no backroom,” says Vince. “We had to excavate the basement after the fact, and that basement was always full. The only way to get product in and out was on a conveyor belt because space was so tight.” John and his wife, Pileria, were both working full-time at the new location, leaving their three young daughters, Luana, Mara and Eva, in the care of John’s mother in their Rapollo Drive bungalow not far from the store. “I remember my dad would come home after we were in bed, and wake us up to spend some time with us,” says Eva, the youngest of the three Fortino daughters. “Then he’d put us back to bed and return to work.” The other partners, along with their spouses and children, were also busy pitching in to help keep overhead costs down. Mike Carobelli recalls making 25 cents a day to keep the plants watered in the store’s outdoor ‘garden centre’ at the age of 11. At the age of 14, future Executive VP Vince Scorniaenchi was working five nights a week in the store to help out. “We knew we had to keep the payroll down if we were going to survive,” recalls Umberto Spagnuolo. In 1973, John Fortino convinced the partners it was time to expand. He was looking west, to a growing residential area on the opposite end of the Mountain. He worked out a deal with Jack Rosart to put the new store into a plaza on Limeridge Road, just east of Garth Street. It was at this point he finally convinced Luciano Scorniaenchi to put his house on the line as the company’s newest investor. “I had been working at the Royal Connaught downtown as a bartender for 18 years,” says Luciano, affectionately known by friends as Louie. “John and my brother (Tony) had been after me for years to come in with them, even when they had the little store on King Street. My kids were getting older by then, and


The Butcher Shoppe was a prominent feature in the new Mount Albion and Greenhill store that opened in 1981.

John Fortino hoists his catch on one of the rare breaks he took during the early years of the business.

my oldest son said he thought it might be good for me.” Louie, who was making $400 a week including tips at the Connaught, left his job to become a grocery clerk at the new Limeridge Fortinos making $150 a week. Before the first year was over, Louie took a leave of absence for a month to go back to the Connaught. “I wasn’t sure I had done the right thing, and John said I should go find out. I came back after a month.” The first year at Limeridge was nerve-wracking for the partners, but it wouldn’t be the first or most dramatic of the challenges they would face. The boom in business they had experienced at Upper Ottawa didn’t materialize in the new location, and the overhead was higher. Lucy Caluori says she remembers overhearing conversations at home between her parents Stan and Maria. “My parents would talk, and they were saying that the one store wasn’t doing very

Hamilton East Mountain residents were happy to see Fortinos expand. The opening of the large Upper Ottawa location at Larch Street in 1983 replaced the original small shop at Mohawk and Upper Ottawa.


An experiment inspired by The Barn George Love and his partners threw a new challenge into the Hamilton food scene in the mid 1980s with the opening of The Barn, a retail concept focused solely on fresh produce to target the emergence of health-conscious consumers. The name came from the operation’s first retail location on York Boulevard in a building that had been a barn. The concept proved popular, and the Love brothers began expanding into areas of the city served by Fortinos. Vince Scorniaenchi recalls the management team, now housed at its East Mountain headquarters on Nebo Road, brainstorming ideas to counter the new challenger. The result was Greenbelt, a retail concept that would be heavily focused on fresh fruits and vegetables. Looking for ways to make Greenbelt even more appealing than The Barn, Vince convinced John that the new store should also offer fresh seafood. “No one had fresh seafood in those days, and I believed it would be popular with customers,” says Vince. Equipment was installed for a new seafood department, but with days to go before opening there was a problem – no one knew where to buy seafood. “I knew one of our employees, Nick Smirelli, liked to eat seafood so I went to ask him if he knew of anyone who sold it. Together we went around to Italian social clubs and finally came across a guy who knew a supplier. On the Monday before a Tuesday opening, Nick and I found this seafood place called Maximum. That was the start of fresh seafood.” Two Greenbelt stores were opened, one on the Hamilton Mountain and one in the lower city on Barton Street. But within a couple of years, the decision was made to close them. “The lesson we learned was that our own stores were the right model, we just needed to do a better job with the fresh departments.”

well. I picked up on the fact that our house was part of the collateral, and I was thinking, where would we live if they took our house? I only had one aunt who wasn’t part of the business, so I told myself we could always go live with her.” Tough times meant each of the partners had to ante up another $2,000 each. By using cash flow from the busy Upper Ottawa store, they were able to weather the storm until customers on the West Mountain finally discovered the Fortinos magic. The new store did very well once it caught on, and that gave the partners the confidence to keep going. The Limeridge location did so well in fact that it was expanded three or four times. It was doing sales of close to $500,000 a week by the mid-70s. The deli counter was regularly backed up with 50 customers on weekends, and the atmosphere was electric with a dozen clerks cutting fresh deli meats and cheeses for the crush of shoppers. The store employed five butchers who started early in the morning, but still couldn’t keep up with the demand. Over on Upper Ottawa, Franco remembers Saturdays when he was putting out $12,000 in cuts of fresh meats. By 1975, John Fortino was ready to move forward, and asked the partners to ‘throw the dice’ yet again. “We lived in a tiny little bungalow on East 18th Street, and I don’t how many times we put it up to keep things going,” says Louie. “John had the big ideas, but they were always good and I had confidence in him.” The opening of the Highway 8 and Gateshead Crescent location in 1975 was the company’s first foray into the lower city, and a direct challenge to a large Dominion store just up the street. But the demographics for the location were perfect – Stoney Creek and East Hamilton were heavily populated by Italian and European immigrants. It wouldn’t be too many more years before Dominion would retreat, leaving a large location ready to be filled by Fortinos. Initially the Gateshead location took up 25,000


square feet with another 3,000 square feet set aside as warehouse space for the growing chain. Carmen Fortino, who had been working part-time at Dominion since he was 16, got wind of the opening. “I went to see John, but he was a little hesitant. He said, ‘you’ve got a great job at Dominion, why would you leave that?’ I told him I knew that once Fortinos opened I wouldn’t get any hours at Dominion because of the business they’d lose.” Carmen’s prediction proved prophetic. Before long, the store was so busy that more space was required, and the store expanded into the space that was intended for storage. In 1978, the company opened its first ‘head office’, warehouse and cash and carry centre on Nash Road, north of Barton Street East, in the east end of Hamilton. “Opening the Nash Road warehouse was a necessity, we were bursting at the seams,” recalls Vince Scorniaenchi. “John loved finding deals, so we needed space to accommodate the volumes of merchandise he was buying. It was a pretty basic operation – we put in some skids and shelving and we did it all ourselves.” Produce was another matter – John now had three trucks on the road between Toronto and each of the stores daily. As business grew, John felt he should be getting better deals on the products he was buying, but the business was highly leveraged making it a poor candidate for established buying groups. When John ran into Gerry Prins, a former Essex Packers rep who had sold John and his partners meat for the original King Street store, he learned that Gerry had gone back to school to study business. “He said I should come work for him to help get the financial side of the business straightened out, and to look at ways to improve purchasing,” says Gerry, who agreed to come aboard on a handshake, and shared office space with John at the Gateshead store. “One of the first issues I saw was the fact that they were getting no volume rebates outside of dairy and bread. We quickly got that up to $800,000 a month, which really helped take some pressure off the business financially.” His next step was to create a buying group that could, as a collective, get pricing comparable to big operators like Dominion. “We got together with a group of retailers who weren’t competing with each other directly, and set up a buying group that was very successful.” Among its charter members were Fortinos, representing


Nino Gallo was manager of Burlington’s first Fortinos which opened in 1985.

A young Domenic Raso trains to take over produce purchasing from John Fortino as the company grows.

Hamilton, Commisso’s, representing Niagara, and Longo’s, representing Burlington. Together, he and John also recruited George Johnson, then a manager for Dominion, as manager for the Gateshead store. As Carmen Fortino notes: “One thing about Fortinos – it was never an arrogant business. John taught us we could learn from anyone if we thought it would be good for our customers. That’s why there was no hesitation to bring in someone like George Johnson and learn from him.” Business continued to boom at all three locations, and the new head office and warehouse made it easier

to co-ordinate day-to-day operations. That freed up time for John to resume planning for the future. He recruited John Thiessen, an advertising sales rep at Brabant’s Stoney Creek News, to take over responsibility for marketing. Thiessen’s mandate was to broaden the store’s appeal beyond Italians and Europeans while increasing customer traffic. He also began training one of his star produce managers, Domenic Raso, to take over produce purchasing. Domenic, who quit his job at Stelco in 1977 to work at Fortinos despite a significant pay cut, was working in the dairy department at Limeridge when he got a call from Vince saying he and John wanted him to move into produce at Upper Ottawa. “I had picked cherries and strawberries before, but other than that really didn’t know much about produce,” says Domenic, who later became John’s son-in-law after marrying eldest daughter Luana. “That was the best thing they ever did for me. The produce department got into my blood, and it didn’t take long before I became produce manager.” In 1981, with the opening of a fourth store at Mount Albion Road and Greenhill Avenue in east Hamilton, Domenic became John’s heir apparent as produce buyer. He had already been tagging along with John on his days off because he wanted to learn more about produce. Domenic says there was one particular lesson he learned from John that stands out for him today. “John told me, before you buy something you should already know how you’re going to merchandise it, the price you can charge and where it’s going to go in the store. That was great advice I have remembered through the years.” Vince Scorniaenchi, who was being groomed as a company leader, was appointed manager of the booming Stoney Creek Gateshead store. “That store was about 28,000 square feet – it was quite intimidating,” recalls Vince. “I was 23 years old, just out of college and now I was responsible for 150 people, most of whom were older than me. I knew lots about the food business, but I didn’t have experience managing people. All I knew was the way John treated people, and I thought if I could do the same I would be successful.” Financing the growth meant the shareholders had to invest more money, and extend personal guarantees to keep the business moving forward. Not all of the partners always shared John’s vision to keep growing, but in John’s mind there was no chance this was going

Umberto Spagnuolo and his son, Paul (top left) and Franco (Joe) Carobelli and his son, Mike (right).

to fail. He was always able to convince his partners that growing was the best thing to do. Adds Umberto Spagnuolo: “John was the mediator, and his confidence made everyone feel better. There was a lot of debt, but once you start dancing, you just have to dance. When things got tough, we all knew we just had to work harder until things came around.” By 1982, all four stores were booming and the tiny Nash Road warehouse was being stretched to its limits. A new site for a bigger head office and warehouse complex was found on Nebo Road, not too far from the Upper Ottawa store that had been open now for 10 years, and plans were made for construction. The new head office provided 10,000 square feet of office space, allowing all administrative functions, including buying and accounting, to be done from a central location. The company was now on a solid footing for growth, with its management team and business systems under one roof. Plans for further growth and change were in the works, with the top priority being a larger East Mountain location. A new store site to replace the original Upper Ottawa and Mohawk store was found south on Upper Ottawa at Larch Street, and construction of a larger store to service the growing East Mountain began. Nino Gallo, who had been learning the ropes as a store manager with stints at Upper Ottawa and Mohawk as well Mount Albion and Greenhill, was hand-picked to open the new larger location with 28,000 square feet of retail space. The Mohawk store, that had been in business for 11 years, was closed. The same year, Vince Scorniaenchi moved into head office as Director of Retail Operations, to co-ordinate day-to-day activities at each of the stores.


Marking the First 25 Years

A year after opening the first store in Burlington, Fortinos marked an important milestone – the company’s Silver Anniversary. From humble beginnings with one ‘official’ employee on King Street, the business now employed roughly 500 people in five stores. Most of the original partners were still active in the business in 1986, and all were treated equally. “Many people don’t realize this, but the shareholders were always paid equal salaries. It didn’t matter if you were president, worked in produce or you were a janitor. John said it had to be the same for everyone,” says Luciano (Louie) Scorniaenchi, who in 1986 was assistant store manager at the Gateshead Fortinos in Stoney Creek. As the company marked its 25th anniversary, Mario Presta was produce manager at the Limeridge store where his brother Oreste was produce supervisor. Oreste’s skills as a former barber were legendary. Employees still remember Oreste hand-trimming bunches of grapes so they would look perfect for his customers. Stan Felice was assistant store manager at


Limeridge; Umberto Spagnuolo had recently retired; Tony Scorniaenchi was maintenance supervisor in Stoney Creek; and Joe Carobelli was still wowing customers at Upper Ottawa with his meat-cutting magic behind the butcher counter. John Fortino, quoted in a 25th anniversary special edition in The Hamilton Spectator, made clear his philosophy about the roles of everyone at Fortinos: “We’re a team here. I hate the title of President, but I had to put it down when we formed the corporation. I officially became the President, but I still get down on my hands and knees and wash floors if I have to.” He also said he missed the days when he was more hands-on in the business. Demands of the growing company forced him to spend more time in meetings and on paper work, taking him away from his beloved produce departments. But no matter how busy things got, John made a point of visiting the stores regularly. “When John went into a store, he couldn’t get out because every employee wanted to talk to him,” recalls

Carmen Fortino. “John knew every employee, and he even knew their families. He had his own way of ensuring employees were treated the way they should be, based on what they needed. He tried to help people whenever he could, and I know that from personal experience.” Adds Domenic Raso, who in 1986 was produce supervisor for the growing network of stores: “John genuinely cared about people. When he came to work, he’d walk around to every cubicle at Head Office and say good morning to everyone. I never understood how he could remember everyone’s name at Head Office, and in the stores.” According to The Spectator, there were a number of reasons Fortinos had achieved success in its first quarter century, going up against much larger competitors like Dominion, Loblaw and Safeway. “Ask their customers why they keep coming back, and a common remark will be the cleanliness and organized feel of their stores, which are all laid out in similar patterns,” stated The Spectator in its special edition marking Fortinos’ 25th anniversary. “They challenge anyone to the white-glove test, and receive comments regularly about their shiny floors, dust-free shelves and tidy aisles.” Also legendary, said The Spectator, was the company’s commitment to community, noting that Fortinos “donates more than $25,000 annually to close to 100 organizations, churches and schools.” The Spectator foreshadowed what was to come in this comment from John Fortino: “We always have things in the planning stages, and our next store will be even bigger.” Fortinos’ commitment to delivering the best quality fresh meats was paying off in spades. The company was now selling an estimated 26,000 head of cattle annually, or about 15.6 million pounds. Additionally, customers were eating up another 800,000 pounds of veal and roughly 472 kilometres of Fortinos’ now famous homemade sausages. What John Fortino and his team didn’t know was that the late ‘80s would bring challenges unlike anything the company had experienced before, including serious competition that would threaten its very survival. But first came the sweet taste of victory in 1984. The company’s biggest competitor withdrew from Stoney Creek, allowing Fortinos to open its largest store to date in the former Dominion store at Fiesta Mall. “The Fiesta Mall location needed some serious renovations, but the business took off as soon as we opened the doors,” recalls Mall Road Franchise Owner Nino Gallo, who served as Fiesta Mall’s first store manager.

Pileria Fortino smiles broadly in a photo featured from a special Hamilton Spectator edition marking Fortinos’ 25th Anniversary.

John Fortino is pictured by the sign in front of the company’s Nebo Road head office for The Spectator’s 25th Anniversary edition.

“That was the first really big store we had. When we opened it was 44,000 square feet, and before that our largest was about 30,000. It was a big jump. Needless to say, each store became more challenging with the growth. We worked lots of hours.” At the same time, the market was becoming increasingly competitive, and the management team and shareholders became particularly anxious when they got word that a newcomer called Super Tops was planning to open at least three new stores, two of them on Fortinos’ home turf on the Hamilton Mountain. “This was a competitor coming out of Toronto and we were quite concerned. Super Tops said they


were planning to open two stores at first with more to follow,” says Vince Scorniaenchi, who at the time was the company’s Director of Operations. “They came to town, and it was really intense for a good year.” Super Tops challenged Fortinos directly on specialty ethnic items, and started flagging some of its newspaper ads with the headline: “Super Tops Goes Italian.” An ad touting veal cutlets, a Fortinos’ specialty, at $1.99 a pound had Meat Director Mario Germana mystified. He knew his cost at the time was almost $3 a pound, so he decided to investigate by visiting the stores and purchasing the product. Mario came back to the management team with word that Super Tops was actually selling beef, but calling it veal. Management stuck to its principles, refusing to mislead customers. In the end, the Super Tops challenge was shortlived and the company went into receivership. Its demise represented an opportunity for growth that would make Fortinos the dominant supermarket in Hamilton with over 40 per cent market share. Super Tops assets were put up for bid, and Fortinos was able to secure three of its former locations – Mohawk Road and Upper Wellington and Mohawk and Magnolia in Hamilton, as well as Kennedy Road in Brampton. After doing battle with Super Tops for a year, it was very gratifying for everyone at Fortinos to take over their former locations. But it also meant the team had to shift into high gear to redesign and renovate the stores to fit the Fortinos model. With three stores to be renovated and reopened as Fortinos in under six months, John Fortino knew it was time to recruit a construction specialist. Paolo Presutti recalls getting a call from John. “I was working for Carleton University in Ottawa, and John asked me to come down to talk with him. Believe it or not, he was personally handling construction in those days. He said he needed help. They were doing a lot of renovations at the time, and he wanted me to learn the business.” Paolo says John had very clear ideas on store design. “He was a great teacher, he spent a lot of time with me. He had a set format for the stores – produce on one side, meat on the opposite side, frozen in the middle, dairy along the back, grocery in between and check-outs along the front. The stores would get bigger in time, but he didn’t vary from that design.” Upper Wellington and Magnolia opened in December, 1987. Paolo cut his teeth on a new store at Kennedy Road in Brampton, another former Super Tops location which was being rebuilt with plans to


John DeSantis, who was Limeridge Meat Manager in 1986, is pictured at the store’s meat counter. Meat Director Mario Germana, inset.

The opening of Fortinos Fiesta Mall in 1987 was the company’s largest store to date, with what was then a sprawling fresh produce department.

The parking lot is packed as Fortinos throws open the doors at its new Upper Wellington Street store on Hamilton’s Mountain.

open the following March. At the same time, Fortinos was also building a 30,000-square-foot bakery complex – the largest commercial bakery in Hamilton at the time – with the goal of producing 60,000 loaves of bread and 15,000 dozen buns per week to service the growth retail chain. Plans called for the bakery to produce a wide variety of breads under the Golden Mill brand name. Management felt Fortinos had been at the mercy of the large bakeries, which dictated the styles of bread that could be offered to customers. The plans also included a cafeteria-style restaurant, in a plaza which today houses Fortinos head office. Employees celebrate Christmas in their new Nebo Road head office in 1987.

Shoppers love the deals at the bright new Fortinos on Upper Wellington.

Employee Domenic Petrella assists at Grand Opening of the Magnolia store.


The Annual Heart Fund Dinner topped the $1-million mark in 1999. Holding the cheque, from left are Rick Galloy, President of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, John Fortino, Vince Scorniaenchi, and Carolyn Brooks, Past Chair of the Board for the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Commitment to Community John Fortino’s dedication to giving back – to his employees and the community at large – infused the company with a philanthropic spirit that has always made the business distinctively different than its competitors. “We make the effort to set the example at Head Office, but in reality Fortinos’ franchisees and their teams make it work,” notes Vince Scorniaenchi, Executive Vice President. “Each of our stores has always supported company-wide initiatives like Heart Fund and PC Children’s Charities, but they’ve also embraced and supported organizations specific to their own communities.” The Annual Heart Fund Dinner started out in the 1980s as a small affair to raise funds in the fight against Canada’s No. 1 killers, heart disease and stroke. It blossomed into one of the company’s


signature events, culminating in an annual dinner that became the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s single largest fundraising event. By 1999, the event hit a key milestone when the total amount raised by Fortinos and its employees and customers topped $1 million. It wouldn’t be long before that number reached $2 million. Each of the stores did their part to push fundraising to higher and higher levels, holding individual events ranging from fashion shows and charity bingos to annual pasta dinners. An important part of the Annual Heart Fund Dinner was recognizing the top performing stores, which often raised close to $20,000 on their own. The Heart Fund Dinner also regularly featured individuals who shared personal stories of how their

Former Hamilton Alderman, the late Dominic Agostino is pictured in 1991, (seated at left). He was among the dignitaries to grace the Heart Fund stage over the years.

Recognizing the efforts of Franchisees and their teams became an important part of the Annual Heart Fund Dinner. Pictured at the 1994 event, from left, Frank Scornaienchi, Rose Kircos, Bill Foley, Nino Beltrano and Taner Yalchin.

lives had been positively impacted by Fortinos’ efforts. More than a few tears were shed at stories like that of a three-year-old Hamilton toddler whose life had been saved with a heart transplant. Another memorable event was the Fortinos Annual Golf Tournament, supported by employees and vendors to raise money for Camp Trillium, a facility for children with cancer. PC Children’s Charities was also included. The tournament started out in 1984 as a day of golf for a handful of meat managers, their assistants and butchers, and grew into a company-wide event that raised more than $100,000 annually for its charitable causes. “The annual golf tournament was an amazing event,” says Joe Zukiel, District Manager. “Eventually, we took over two golf courses and had

“Each of our stores has always supported company-wide initiatives like Heart Fund and PC Children’s Charities, but they’ve also embraced and supported organizations specific to their own communities.” more than 400 golfers attending each year. It really was something special.” John DeSantis, who was Senior Category Manager of Meat, Deli and Seafood before retiring in 2004, recalled the tournament’s beginnings in an interview as the tournament marked its 20th anniversary. “I was a meat manager at the time, and a group of us decided to organize a golf day for the guys in the meat department at all of the stores. The first year was such a hit we decided to open it up to all employees. That’s when Carmen Fortino said ‘next year, we’ll do it right’. He gave us $5,000 or $6,000 for prizes so everyone got a prize. The rest is history.” In 1988, Anita Ionni, who is now Director of Training and Development, stepped in to help grow the tournament, from 144 golfers in 1988 to more than 430. Among other things, funds were used to build a much-needed dining hall at Camp Trillium. A sense of community was also behind the annual picnic for Fortinos employees that started out small but grew as the company expanded and continued hiring hundreds of new employees. Fortinos eventually took over Hamilton’s Wild Water Works at Confederation Park for a day of swimming, spirited volleyball competitions, games, food and entertainment. “This business has always been about people, and that spirit is alive and well today,” notes Vince.


Fortinos’ Franchisees and their service teams always played a major role in fundraising for Heart Fund and PC Children’s Charities. Clockwise from top right: Magnolia’s Elvira Paulini, Rose Kircos and Lorella Silvestri staff a charity bingo in 1994; Mall Road Franchisees Nino and Nella Gallo and their staff at the annual charity golf tournament the store organized each year; recognizing employees has always fostered a sense of community within Fortinos. In this 1994 photo, John Fortino (far right) is pictured with long-time employees; the bond among Fortinos employees is felt deeply as Fiesta Mall’s Bill Fleming found after losing his leg in a car accident in 2003. Staff rallied to provide financial and moral support, and he is pictured here the following year with colleagues after being fitted with a prosthetic leg; Fortinos Upper Middle celebrates its participation in the annual Big Bike Ride to raise funds.


Camp Trillium, a facility for kids with cancer and their families, received unwavering support from Fortinos employees, customers and vendors for many years through funds raised at the Fortinos Annual Golf Tournament.

Vince Scorniaenchi presents a cheque for $50,000 to Camp Trillium at the 2004 Fortinos Annual Golf Tournaments.

The sun shone on the Fortinos golf tournament with the exception of 1987, in which golfers enjoyed festivities under a covered tent.


PC Children’s Charity helps make lives easier for Canadian children, a cause close to the heart of all Fortinos people. Above, Fortinos Franchisees join the Jamesville Breakfast Club in Hamilton, one of 13 nutritional programs supported across Fortinos’ communities. Below, Brampton Franchise Owner Dwight Collier presents a local family with a cheque for $3,900 to help the family pay for respite care.





& Loblaw Companies

Franchisees celebrate their achievements in a ‘retreat’ to Orlando in 1991. The yearly retreats were designed to honour top performers, and outline business plans for the year ahead.



N 1988, FORTINOS WAS honoured by the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce with an Outstanding Business Achievement Award in the large business category which comprised companies with more than 100 employees. The Chamber praised Fortinos for its unmatched relations with employees and the communities it served. “Although Fortinos Supermarkets has enjoyed steady growth since its inception in 1961, there is nothing in its past to match 1987,” the Chamber stated. “During the year this Supermarket with a Heart expanded from five stores to eight in the Greater Hamilton/Burlington/Brampton area and added 500 employees to is payroll. “It also created a full-service personnel department, initiated employee social functions and special awards for achievement. To assist community non-profit organizations the company supplied shopping bags with messages designed to promote public awareness.” The Chamber, which presented the award at a gala awards dinner, noted that Fortinos had doubled its weekly sales in less than a year, “and continues to demonstrate it is an innovative competitor in the markets it serves.” The team enjoyed the celebration, recalls Louie Scornaienchi. “We all felt so proud, and John always made sure each of us was included any time the company was honoured.” John Fortino was enjoying the momentum the company had achieved, and wanted to capitalize on it. The management team began to consider the possibility of franchising as a way of growing more quickly while maintaining a personal approach at each new location. Management felt there were a couple of significant benefits to franchising. There was no question that having owners in the stores would not only make the business easier to manage, it would bring true ownership to the front lines of customer service. There was just one problem. No one on the management team had experience in franchising, recalls Paul Spagnuolo, who was director of merchandising at the time. “There was a person named Claude Genier with Miracle Food Mart in Ottawa who had made a pitch to purchase Fortinos. John (Fortino)


Fortinos first Franchise Owner Bill Foley welcomes customers to his store’s celebrations in June, 1988.

contacted Claude and told him what we wanted to do. Claude came on board, put the whole package together, and we rolled from there.” But as plans for franchising were being developed, the Fortinos team would be tested like never before. Super Carnaval, a Quebec-based retailer notorious for sparking price wars to steal market share from existing players, announced plans to open two large stores in Hamilton – one at the Dundurn Plaza in west Hamilton, and another across from Limeridge Mall on the central Hamilton Mountain.

The Perfect Storm The Super Carnaval challenge came at a vulnerable time for Fortinos. The company had gone through rapid growth with the acquisition of the Super Tops stores, and the Golden Mill bakery project was running way over budget. Super Carnaval arrived just before the Christmas season of 1987, opening its first store at the Dundurn Plaza to fire the first salvos in what would be a relatively short but devastating price war. “When Joe Burnett (Super Carnaval owner) came to Hamilton, he told Fortinos he was either going to buy us, or put us out of business,” says Paul Spagnuolo. “We sure didn’t want to sell the business at that point, so we hunkered down for the fight.” A second Super Carnaval opened in the new

Roger Brabant with a skid of Fortinos flyers, the beginning of a new marketing thrust.

year on the Hamilton Mountain, and the company was running multiple page flyers in the Hamilton Spectator every Saturday, touting “Discount Warehouse Prices EVERYDAY!” The company even operated a high-profile “price spy van” that visited competitors to check on their prices. Weekly ads featured comparison shops, comparing a basket of groceries purchased at a competitor to the same basket of goods at Super Carnaval. The ads even featured photos of the cash-register receipts. One ad compared a Dundas shopper’s weekly bill at A&P with Super Carnaval. The ad featured a testimonial from Mrs. Bonnie Roberts whose cash register receipt showed she paid $13.50 less on her weekly bill at Super Carnaval. “The store (Super Carnaval) has everything you could need. It was worth the drive from Dundas. I was impressed with the savings,” raved Mrs. Roberts. The page was filled with other customer photos and testimonials. Paul Spagnuolo said the Fortinos team was determined to keep its stores out of the Super Carnaval comparison ads. Fortinos countered with BELIEVE IT! Everyday Everyweek Low Low Prices. “We were vigilant. We were checking Super Carnaval prices daily, making sure we matched everything. Things got totally crazy, but we knew we had to do it. Otherwise, he would do to us what he had done to operators in Quebec.” Fortinos also launched a regular flyer program,

“We were vigilant. We were checking Super Carnaval prices daily, making sure we matched everything.” supplementing its newspaper advertising to combat the new competition. The flyer program would eventually become the company’s key marketing tool. The bloody fight rattled Fortinos shareholders as losses mounted. “Super Carnaval was very scary,” says Louie Scorniaenchi. “We were losing so much money – I think it was up over $2 million in a very short period. John had a very strong backbone, and that kept us going. He would just say to us; ‘we gotta do what we gotta do’. The pressure was intense, and it meant we had to buckle down and work harder than ever.” Domenic Raso says he recalls prices hitting unheard of lows. “We were selling milk at $1.18 for four litres. Sales were booming, but we were blowing our brains out. I can remember (Advertising Manager) John Thiessen being interviewed on CH-TV news, noting we had Cheer on special at $1.99, compared to $2.99 for Tide at Super Carnaval. Needless to say, we couldn’t keep Cheer on the shelves.” In April of 1988, The Hamilton Spectator featured


the price war with a full-page article headlined: STORE WARS – “Super Carnaval loads the artillery … and competitors fire it right back.” The article had both sides claiming victory. David Corrigan, senior vice president for Burnac Corporation, was quoted as saying Super Carnaval sales in Hamilton had exceeded all expectations. “With the two stores, we have already captured 16 to 17 per cent of the food dollar in Hamilton, and we’ll get 20 per cent when we open our third store in Stoney Creek.” He went on to say that each of the two Super Carnaval stores was averaging 22,000 to 25,000 transactions a week with $750,000 to $1 million in weekly sales. While the price wars hit all of the city’s food retailers, Spectator reporter Suzanne Bourret noted that “some food industry operators say the real battle is between Super Carnaval and Fortinos Supermarkets, firmly positioned for 27 years in Hamilton.” She added that John Thiessen of Fortinos agreed. “Super Carnaval came in with one goal in mind … to take Fortinos to battle. Fortinos is unequivocally winning. We were prepared to lose 20 per cent in sales but we haven’t lost any since they came. We’ve gained transactions.” In fact, he added, Fortinos encourages its customers to go have a look. “When a circus comes to town, people go to see what’s doing. We’re confident they’ll all come back, and they have,” Thiessen was quoted as saying that the big losers in the battle were Miracle Food Mart and A&P. As the battle wore on, the Fortinos management team met daily to review strategy while John and the shareholders were meeting regularly for situation updates to keep the bank onside with their fight. The Fortinos strategy paid off. On May 30, another Spectator headline heralded the end of the war: “Super Carnaval stores are being sold to Loblaws chain, says rival.” The deal closed, and Super Carnaval was gone, replaced by Loblaws SuperCentre stores. “Ironically, when Loblaw Companies was buying Super Carnaval Joe Burnett told them that if you want to make headway in Hamilton, you’ve got to look at buying Fortinos.

The Birth of Fortinos Franchises While the price wars were raging, the management team was busy working on a plan for Fortinos of the future. Claude Genier, formerly of Miracle Food Mart in Ottawa, had come on board as Executive Consultant to develop a plan that used a franchising model


John Fortino celebrates the 1989 Dundurn opening with Hamilton Mayor Bob Morrow.

Roland Kroeppe tends the Montreal-style bagels baking in the brick oven at the new Dundurn Fortinos.

to accelerate growth of the chain. The first of Fortinos franchise stores was to debut in June 1988, just as Super Carnaval was leaving town. Fortinos invited everyone to a party in the east end of the city where Bill Foley would become the first Fortinos Franchise Owner at the Mount Albion and Greenhill store, which had been open for seven years. Bill had first seen the store at a ‘preview’ night for suppliers in 1981. “I was working at Dominion at the time, and my boss told me to go down and check out the grand opening of the new Fortinos. I went down the night before figuring there would be some kind of event. They were doing an open house for vendors, and I met the rep from Humpty Dumpty who took me in. I thought it was funny that years later I would become manager, and then Franchise Owner.” Bill says Mount Albion was a retail powerhouse, pumping out more than $400,000 in weekly sales from 20,000 square feet of space. It was also the first

The new Eastgate store draws politicians from both Hamilton and Stoney Creek. Hamilton Alderman Fred Lombardo and Stoney Creek Bob Hodgson help John Fortino during the ribbon cutting.

Fortinos store to launch a seafood department, which had first been introduced within Greenbelt. “We renovated Mount Albion in 1987, and John Fortino told me he wanted to put in a seafood department. It was a tight squeeze, but it did very well for us.” Meanwhile, Loblaw Companies had initiated talks with Fortinos owners about the possibility of purchasing the company. Loblaw was learning what previous competitors had found out, says Paul Spagnuolo. “In Hamilton at the time, Fortinos dominated the Hamilton market, especially on the Mountain. Loblaw had basically disappeared with the exception of No Frills. Any time someone wanted to open in Hamilton they had to take it away from us. That’s what Super Carnaval had tried to do, but failed.” Adds Vince: “Loblaw Companies bought Super Carnaval as a defensive move to keep them out of other markets. Loblaw took over their (Dundurn, Mall Road and Eastgate Mall) stores, and converted them to SuperCentres, but their business went from bad to worse under the new banner. Dick Currie, President of Loblaw Companies, told Ontario President Dave Williams to contact John Fortino and Claude Genier to explore the possibility of buying the banner. The decision to sell or not to sell was a dilemma

for shareholders. The company was like their baby, and employees had become part of their families. “It was the right time, but it was sad at the same time,” recalls Louie Scornaienchi. Not all of the shareholders, however, were in agreement. “I retired after we sold the company,” says Mario Presta. “I wasn’t really ready to retire at that point. I was against selling the company, but the majority won. In the long run, I think it was the right thing to do. I enjoyed the work though so it was hard to let go.” As part of the deal, shareholders had to agree they wouldn’t work in the retail food business for five years. Mario’s brother, Oreste, and his wife, Vittoria, were the only ones to return to Fortinos after the five years had expired. “We were too young to retire,” says Oreste, who retired permanently in 2011. Vittoria still works part-time in Ancaster in the bulk foods department. Paul Spagnuolo says the decision to sell the company was toughest on the children of the shareholders. “The shareholders were close to retiring, wanting to cash out. For us, it was emotional because Fortinos was the only thing we knew. Quite honestly, we expected we’d be gone in a couple of years. When big companies take over little companies, that’s usually what happens.” Vince Scorniaenchi was fighting his own personal


battle at the time. Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he took a leave of absence for chemotherapy treatments. “Loblaw was courting us in summer of ‘88, and I got diagnosed with cancer in the fall. It was a tough time – my son David was born in October, the business was being sold, my personal financial situation was very bad and I had just started chemo treatments.” Vince received a call from John Fortino and Dave Williams saying the deal was going to close. “They were trying to perk me up, but I didn’t feel the sale was going to be good for me. I felt like it wasn’t going to be our business anymore, and that someone from Toronto would come in and wipe everything out.” What Vince and the others didn’t know at the time was that Williams had clear instructions from Currie. “Dick Currie told Dave he could go buy the company, but said to keep his hands off.” Several months after the deal closed, Dick Currie came to Hamilton to meet with the Fortinos management team. “Currie told us he wanted only one thing from us. He said he wanted to us to run the business like it was still our own,” says Vince. “He was very inspirational, and it got everyone back on track. He was good to his word. We would meet quarterly to review financials, but other than that we were running the business.” With the Fortinos management team re-engaged, and the substantial financial resources of a new parent company accessible to them, Fortinos was on the verge of explosive growth once again. The headline on the March 1989 edition of Check It Out, Fortinos’ employee newsletter, said it all: “Wow! The first two months of 1989 have been incredible.” After purchasing Fortinos, Loblaw Companies closed its three SuperCentre locations in Hamilton and turned them over to Fortinos. In the first three months of 1989, Fortinos put its name on its two largest locations to date – Dundurn and Mall Road with renovations ongoing at Eastgate Mall in preparation for a Spring opening. A shopper at the new Dundurn store said he was overwhelmed by opening day crowds, lined up in the cold since 6 in the morning. “I picked up the specials and a few other things I needed, but I’m coming back tomorrow to finish up my shopping,” said Randy Farrell. “I live in Dundas, but the drive to this store is worth it.” The night before the official opening, thousands of people converged on the store for the preview grand opening celebration. The store was decked out in balloons, with clowns and even the Burlington


Carmen Fortino, Fortinos VP Distribution & Logistics, left, joins Mario DeMartino, Franchise Owner; Dave Williams, President of Loblaw Companies Ontario; and Paul Spagnuolo, Fortinos VP Merchandising & Procurement.

Franchise Owner Paul Marchese, second from left, with partners James Marr and Frank Cauduro accepts the ‘key’ to their Guelph Line store in Burlington from John Fortino.

Dave Nichol, the original face for the President’s Choice brand, joins Santa, Paul Spagnuolo, Vince Scorniaenchi and Carmen Fortino for the grand opening preview at Main & Vodden in Brampton.

Teen Tour Band was on hand to entertain. Mayor Bob Morrow assisted John Fortino with a ribbon cutting that included a donation to the Hamilton chapter of the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Paolo Presutti, who joined Fortinos just the year before as Construction Manager, had his first major test. He said the 65,000-square-foot Dundurn store was the toughest challenge of the three because of the tight time lines. “We didn’t even have time to do proper design drawings. That meant I had to be on site a lot more to make sure things were going the way I expected.” He and John Fortino collaborated on the designs for Mall Road and Eastgate. The development also strained the Human Resources department, which had to interview, hire and provide orientation for hundreds of new people. Lucy Caluori, who was then head of HR, said the task was overwhelming. “There was myself, Sonia Miracoli and Liz Rockall involved, and we interviewed more than 1,600 people in just over three months.” Development of these new larger stores also marked a renewed emphasis on in-store bakeries. Bill Johnman, who took on the role of Supervisor of in-store bakeries, noted that Dundurn featured a 7,000-square-foot bakery, including the first woodfired Montreal-style bagel oven. Vince Scorniaenchi says the management team quickly saw the benefit of operating larger stores. “With the conversion of the Loblaw stores we were now into the 60,000-square-foot range, and we started to see the magic of bigger stores. We saw the benefits of having that volume all under one roof, so that became the model moving forward.” In addition to the openings, two more Fortinos locations were converted to franchises in the first two months of the year. Paul Marchese with partners James Marr and Frank Cauduro took on the Guelph Line store, while Nino Beltrano headed up Limeridge with partners Dave Neveu and Carmine Mazzuca. James Marr savoured the moment. “Two years ago I was out of work after being laid off at Safeway,” he said at the grand opening. “Then I joined Fortinos as a meat cutter, and now I am part owner of my own store!” Eastgate would also be converted by the end of the year with Guido Alfonsi as Franchise Owner along with partners Sergio Mazzuca and Tom DeSimone. As part of the transition into the Loblaw family of companies, Fortinos employees were asked to become members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), to bring the company’s labour policies

The head office team joins John Fortino in front of the impressive new corporate headquarters and distribution centre on Glover Road.

John Fortino helps to cut the ribbon along with Sam Marchese, right, and John Cuda at Jane and Wilson in North York. It is Fortinos’ first Toronto location.

“We started to see the magic of bigger stores. We saw the benefits of having that volume all under one roof, so that became the model moving forward.”

into sync with the new parent company. Paul Spagnuolo recalls there being some resistance. “Fortinos employees were always treated so well, they didn’t really want a union.” That same year, John Fortino was honoured as


Carmen Fortino spearheaded the design and layout of the new 175,000 sq. ft. distribution centre. Performing the ribbon cutting honours are (from left): Reg Whynott, Hamilton-Wentworth Regional Chairman; Hamilton Mayor Bob Morrow; Dave Williams, Ontario President, Loblaw Companies; John Fortino, President, Fortinos; Claude Genier, Consultant; Carmen Fortino, Director of Distribution, Fortinos.

Italian-Canadian Citizen of the Year at a gala sponsored by the Order of the Sons of Italy. More than 300 people came out to praise his accomplishments. “We love the style you’ve shown in this community for over 28 years now,” said Robert Hodgson, Deputy Mayor of Stoney Creek. “It is truly a pleasure to be in your presence.” The pressure of serving three huge new supermarkets was quickly taking its toll on outdated distribution facilities at Nebo Road, as well as two additional distribution hubs that had been set up to handle high-volume ‘deals’ and produce. Plans were hatched for a new head office and distribution centre, to bring the entire operation into a 175,000-square-foot facility on Glover Road. Carmen Fortino, who was Director of Distribution Services, credited his team with holding things together. Ken Yansen, Warehouse Operations Manager, said the growth was presenting serious challenges. “Sometimes we have to time things so we can practically unload one truck directly onto another because there just isn’t any room to store it.” The dawn of a new decade was an exciting one for the Fortinos family. A second Brampton store had just opened with a strong Christmas and New Years season. The Main and Vodden team under Franchise Owner Romeo Gismondi got off to a flying start.


There was a special ribbon cutting for store #13 at Appleby Mall in Burlington, where more than 2,000 turned out for a combination grand opening and franchise celebration on the evening of May 6. Ernie Pocalyuko became Franchise Owner along with partners Paul Gowland and George James. Meanwhile, the parade of franchise conversions continued with ‘key presentations’ at Kennedy Road in Brampton where Jack Piazza took over with partners Julietto Juen and Mario Galante, and Upper Ottawa under Franchise Owner Nazio Muraco with Zack Malisa and Carmen Sanelli. But the big event of the year came in the Fall as the finishing touches were being put on a spectacular new $12-million Head Office and Distribution Centre on Hamilton’s east Mountain. The building featured 13,000 square feet of office space, and a distribution centre with a storage capacity of more than 510,000 cubic feet, along with shipping docks that could handle up to 26 trucks at a time. “When you consider that we send upwards of 180 truckloads of goods to our stores each week, there is a need for a large number of loading docks,” noted John Fortino. He noted that more than $2 million was spent installing refrigerated loading and storage areas for

“If this keeps up, we’ll have to build a super highway for people to get to this store.” It’s mayhem at the 1992 grand opening of Denison Fortinos in Markham, with more than 12,000 people showing up.

The home-style bakery is a popular feature for Markham shoppers.

A futuristic looking Deli is part of a $3-million renovation at Mall Road in 1994.

perishables, dairy and deli products, seafood and meats. Included in the perishables area was Fortinos’ own sausage-making facility, a 2,000-square-foot stainless steel room in which chefs blended fresh meats, spices and vegetables to create the many popular lines of sausages. “Sausages have always been huge for Fortinos,” says Mario Germana. “I still remember introducing the honey garlic line, and people went nuts for them.” By the first of the new year in 1991, the dust was settling at the new corporate headquarters as Fortinos prepared for its newest challenge – the Toronto market. The eastward expansion meant Fortinos would be facing competition like never before – competitors that would be very protective of their turf in Toronto. Nonetheless, management felt that by pulling together and applying its proven retail formula, the company would experience the same success it had enjoyed in other markets. It didn’t take long to prove it could be done. An estimated 8,000 people turned out for a sneak preview grand opening at Fortinos’ first Toronto supermarket at Jane and Wilson streets in North York, a former Loblaws store. And when the doors opened for business the next day, the crowds were back, setting opening week sales records for Fortinos stores of that size. Franchise Owner Sam Marchese, who had managed the site when it was Loblaws, said the renovations executed by the Fortinos team made all the difference, with wider aisles and greatly improved lighting. “People really like the clean look, and the expanded produce department.” Plans were already in the works for two additional Toronto locations – Albion and Kipling in Etobicoke and Highway 7 in Woodbridge (Vaughan). The management team, ever mindful of the competitive challenges of the ‘80s was now focusing on new pressures of the ‘90s – the economy was in recession, new competitors like The Price Club and Loeb’s were becoming more worrisome and cross-border shopping was at an all-time high. In the Fall of 1991, a major new marketing initiative called Warehouse Prices was launched to support continuing growth. “The Warehouse Pricing


program is expensive, but essential if we are to remain a major player,” Vince Scorniaenchi said at the time, noting it was the most heavily promoted program in the company’s 30-year history. “Our Franchise Owners and their staff are excited, and the excitement being generated in each store is helping dispel the gloom consumers have been feeling through this recession,” added Vince. With the new Vaughan and Etobicoke stores booming, growth continued in 1992 with the opening of the Denison location in Markham in December. The former SuperCentre location had been struggling, and was turned over to Fortinos in hopes that the management team could revive sagging sales. Advance promotion of the grand opening paid off – more than 12,000 were at the doors on grand opening day. By mid-afternoon the mall housing the newest Fortinos had to be closed because it was over capacity. The doors were locked, and shoppers were only admitted as other customers left. Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who helped with the ribbon cutting, was overwhelmed by the store’s early success. “If this keeps up, we’ll have to build a super highway for people to get to this store,” he joked. In 1993, Fortinos broke ground on the first store it would build from the ground up. The planned 52,000-square-foot location at Upper James and Rymal Road in Hamilton would replace the Upper Wellington store acquired after the Super Tops bankruptcy. In a statement that now seems prophetic, Construction Manager Paolo Presutti said: “Our marketing today is focused on freshness, and this store delivers in spades. We have, of course, designed the store for optimal energy efficiency as well.” The following year was one of improvement with three major renovation projects on the books including a $3-million makeover at Mall Road in Hamilton. The unveiling of Mall Road’s new look included some exciting new features, including the introduction of the Fortinos Pharmacy to the Hamilton market. As 1994 came to a close, Fortinos had redefined itself in less than a decade. Claude Genier, who had helped guide Fortinos through its growth from a small, family-run business to a chain of full-size, franchised supermarkets, was ready to turn over the reins to Vince Scorniaenchi for the next steps in the company’s evolution.

John Fortino celebrates another grand opening.

Fortinos unveils Cheese World at a Brampton opening in the late 1980s.

An interior view of the produce department at Upper Wellington.




AdventureYears Pictured at left: The Fortinos senior management team from left: Peter Marlow, VP Merchandising; Sonia Miracoli, Director of Human Resources; Peter Blouin, VP Retail Operations; John DiBenedetto, Director of Labour Management; Elaine Martin, VP Finance & Administration; Vince Scorniaenchi, Executive VP; Frank Pagliaro, Director of Produce Operations; Rodney Koning, Director of Meat and Seafood Operations; Carolyn MacDonald, Director of Customer Service and PC Financial; Frank Gambioli, Director Grocery/Dairy/Frozen Food/Holy Smokes/Natural Foods.

Absent from photo are Paolo Presutti, Director, Store Design; Lucy Caluori, VP Non Foods, and Dan Perry, Director of Bakery, Deli & HMR.



T WAS 1995. THE RECESSION of the early ’90s was a fading memory, and Vince Scorniaenchi had been at the helm of Fortinos for just over a year. It was a busy year for the construction team, with ongoing work at two new Fortinos’ locations – Lawrence & Allen in North York, as well as Mountainash and Bovaird in Brampton. There were also major renovations happening at both Dundurn in Hamilton and Albion & Kipling in Etobicoke. At the same time, Vince was exploring opportunities for additional growth when he came across a large tract of undeveloped land in Burlington. “In those days, most of our new store opportunities came to us via the corporate real estate department at Loblaw. They would come to us when they had a location they felt would be good for Fortinos,” says Vince. “But I was doing my own scouting, and came across this property on Plains Road. I really liked it. I thought it had great potential so I took it to the real estate people.” Although the response from corporate headquarters was negative, Vince wasn’t deterred. “They said they had done their market research, and didn’t think the volume would support a store in that location. The demographics weren’t right, there wasn’t a large enough population base. I still believed it would be a good site, and continued fighting for it.” The opportunity to really sell the idea came when Loblaw Companies President Dick Currie got wind of it during a meeting in Toronto. He told Vince he’d like to see the site personally, and said they could have a look at the site next time he was in Hamilton. “Currie came to a meeting in Hamilton, and listened to my arguments,” Vince recalls. “He said he wanted to go have a look himself.” Vince and Dick Currie drove out to the site, and walked onto the field where Vince would outline his vision of, ‘build it and they will come.’ “I still vividly remember Dick Currie looking around, surveying the whole thing. He was facing the highway and asked, ‘so what do you think?’ I told him I really believed it


“This was a $25-million project. It was huge for the time. We had never done a brand new store like that. Everything in it was new and innovative.” would work. So he said, ‘okay, let’s do it.’” The drive back to head office flew by, with Vince alternating between excitement and dread. He was about to take the biggest gamble of his Fortinos career, a gamble that would determine the future growth of the business. Construction Director Paolo Presutti remembers the initial discussions on the Plains Road site. “We knew we needed to come up with an entirely new concept– a concept that would compel customers to drive past an established Longo’s store that was in a better location.” The 1994 renovation at Mall Road had broken new ground, and some of the ideas implemented were being worked into plans for Plains Road. A must, everyone agreed, was to keep all of the fresh departments in one area, a departure from the industry standard with produce on one side of the store and fresh meats on the opposite side. A road trip was set up to to visit an innovative new 120,000-square-foot Wegman’s location in Rochester, New York that featured in-store restaurant-style eating areas, child-care centres, hot cooking stations and more. “That was a real eye opener for all of us, and really got the creative juices going,” recalls Paolo. “It showed us a whole new menu of products and services that could be offered at a supermarket.” By the spring of 1996, ground was broken at the site for construction of Fortinos’ most ambitious project to date – a 70,000-square-foot store that would set new standards for supermarkets. Guido Alfonsi was recruited from the Mount Albion location to become

Franchise owner at Plains Road. “I was a little hesitant when they first asked me because I liked being in Hamilton. But when I learned about the vision, I knew it was huge; very exciting.” “This was a $25-million project, it was huge for the time,” recalls Paolo. “We had never done a brand new store like that. Everything in it was new and innovative. It was a good year in planning, brainstorming different concepts.” Paolo says the vision for a streetscape and fresh open market came from Vince, and the team immediately loved the idea. One of the early ideas that generated controversy was the concept of a fresh floral shop. “Everyone said we shouldn’t have it front and centre, but today we have the number one floral shop in the business. It’s a full flower shop within a supermarket, something that before Plains Road had never been successfully executed.” Other firsts that came out of the management team’s brainstorming sessions included a tobacconist store (Holy Smokes), Pizza & Panini, Chef ’s Tour and Nature’s Treasure. “No one had ever tried putting a natural foods store inside a supermarket like this one,” says Vince. “We really didn’t know much about the products, but we hired some good people with knowledge. All of us worked closely with them, so we learned very quickly.” Construction crews worked feverishly through the summer months with a target of opening the doors on October 19, 1996. With just hours to go before customers would come pouring through the doors, the team was busy with final touches. “That’s one thing about Fortinos – once a date was set you just had to make it happen,” recalls Paolo. Guido says the schedule was so tight that there could be no dress rehearsals. “Everything was new, and there was no time to test and learn things. This was a leading-edge store. I was just relieved that we were able to open, and when we did, the team rose to the challenge.” Vince, who had risked so much to make it happen, recalls some opening day jitters. “We got the store open, and we were very nervous. In Canada, there was nothing like it. We opened at $550,000 a week, which wasn’t good for a store of that size. When executives from LCL came down, the prevailing comment was that this was a beautiful store, but that even if it did well it would be a one-off. They felt the concept was too complex to roll out on a broader scale.”

Guido Alfonsi pictured with his two-year-old son, Jordan, keeps an eye on construction of what was to become the first ‘Adventure’ concept store on Plains Road in Burlington.

Vince Scorniaenchi and Mayor Mulkewich tour the new Plains Road store on Grand Opening day.

But the buzz around Plains Road was building, and Vince wanted to ensure sales would continue to grow. He hatched a marketing idea that was also radical for the time. Working with the company’s ad agency, he developed a multi-media package that included a video featuring a young couple as they discovered the ‘Adventure’ in shopping at this new store. Accompanying the video was a full-colour book entitled At the Heart of Your Community, highlighting many of Fortinos’ charitable activities, the new range of products and services in-store, and the Fortinos Satisfaction Guarantee. The package, which included cash incentives to


“Our vision for the Adventure concept store was to create a shopping experience like no other – one that would wow our customers and change the way people shop for food. The 1996 opening of Plains Road made our dream a reality. There were many people who contributed, but Paolo Presutti (pictured below) was the key to making it happen. His ability to interpret my vague ideas and turn them into spectacular yet functional concepts through creative design was, and continues to be, a big part of the inspiration to explore uncharted waters.” Vince Scorniaenchi, Executive Vice President


The Natures Treasure concept brought the convenience of a full-service health-food store to Fortinos.

Fresh Sushi, prepared on-site, was an instant hit when the doors opened on the Adventure concept stores.

The Gourmet Bean Roast brought a fresh-roasted café into a supermarket setting, with green coffee beans roasted on-site.

Another first at Plains Road – the introduction of a full-service floral department placed front and centre in the store.


Crowds enjoy the street scape as Fortinos unveils an Adventure concept store in Burlington’s Appleby Mall in 1997.

encourage at least two visits to the new Plains Road store, was distributed to a list of 3,000 people who had never before shopped at Fortinos. The unusual marketing thrust was successful, and combined with word of mouth to generate the level of sales that had been envisioned for Plains Road. “Overall, Plains Road was very gratifying,” adds Vince. “We had a very dedicated team that worked hard to make sure all the bases were covered. It was exhilarating, everybody loved it. The feeling among the whole group was unbelievable. We convinced Loblaw we could do many stores like it. The future of Fortinos was now clear.” Guido says the store even attracted international attention. “We had people visit from as far away as Australia to see what we were doing. That’s the kind of attention we were drawing.” But there was little time to sit back and enjoy the success – plans called for three more ‘Adventure’ stores to open within little more than 12 months. Ground had already been broken for the next, and a second was in development. Construction at Highway 10 and Bovaird in Brampton continued through the winter months with a February opening. Highway 7 & Ansley in Woodbridge would open in the summer of 1997, followed by Appleby Mall in Burlington that Fall.


“When we opened Woodbridge, that really put us on the map,” says Vince. “The volumes at that store went through the roof, and it quickly became one of the highest volume stores anywhere. There was a huge buzz about it in Toronto, and people were flooding in from all over to see it. Woodbridge sealed the deal on the new store concept.” The frenetic pace continued, with work already underway to replace the Appleby Mall store with an Adventure concept store at the opposite end of the mall. Paolo Presutti recalls it was a challenging project. “Unlike other Adventure stores that were built from the ground up, at Appleby Mall we were working with previously existing retail space.” Joe Zukiel, who had been Franchise Owner at the small Guelph Line store since 1994, agreed to take on the new store. “It was pretty exciting – the new Appleby Mall location was the largest retail grocery store in Burlington when it opened.” Joe moved to the smaller store at the opposite end of the Mall as construction neared completion on the new location. “My role at that time was to clean up and close the old store. The Fortinos team was looking after everything at the new store, and all I had to was walk across the mall when we were ready to go.” Joe, who today is Director of Operations overseeing day-to-day business at 21 Fortinos stores, says there

The huge task of hiring hundreds of employees for the Adventure concept stores was handled by a team of head-office people who screen thousands of candidates at local job fairs.

Franchise Owner Phil Cocchiaro pictured in front of what would become his new Burlington location at Upper Middle Road and Guelph Line.

was a sharp learning curve for everyone involved. “I spent time with Sal Battaglia in Brampton over the summer so I could learn about and experience all the new departments. There was a lot of support from head office, and our people rose to the challenge and made it happen. Sales started to take off and we never looked back.” In a very short period of time, the Fortinos team had expanded, renovated or built 12 stores adding a total of 329,000 square feet of retail space. Vince recalls there was no time to rest on their laurels. The industry was changing quickly and by 1998, the challenges were clearly coming from different retailers. Membership stores like Price Club and Costco, which didn’t exist in 1989, and mass merchants and department stores like Wal-Mart, had cut into the traditional market of grocers in a big way. In less than 10 years, traditional supermarkets had lost about 10 percent of their market share. Additionally, the recession of the

early ‘90s had spurred the growth of discounters like No Frills, Food Basics and Price Chopper. Paul Spagnuolo remembers the challenges. “We knew that our strength was in our quality. But we also had to be competitive – we didn’t accept the fact that discounters could come into our market and beat us on price. We felt we could give our customers a high level of service along with great prices. That meant keeping strong controls on costs, and ensuring our staff was the best out there. We had to match the prices of the discounters while still providing the quality people expected from us.” In June of 1998, Fortinos ramped up its game by unveiling its largest Adventure store to date – an expansive 83,000-square-foot location at Guelph Line and Upper Middle Road in Burlington. The opening also marked the Fortinos debut of President’s Choice Financial, at the time a new concept in no-fee banking. The new Upper Middle store also gave Fortinos dominance in the Burlington market which it first entered just 11 years earlier. It would be quickly followed by the opening of the new Ancaster store, to replace Magnolia on Hamilton’s West Mountain. In 1999, Fortinos entered Waterdown for the first time when offered the opportunity to take over a closed Maxi & Co. store in the heart of the community’s downtown area. The roll-out of the new Adventure stores posed significant human resources challenges. The new

The front page of the grand opening flyer for Brampton’s new Mountainash store.


stores required more than double the number of employees of traditional stores. And there were a whole new range of skill sets associated with specialty departments like hot foods, Pizza & Panini, House of Flowers, Holy Smokes, coffee bars and more. “Franchise owners could not have executed at this level without the support of head office,” says Joe Zukiel. “The HR team did all the interviewing, hiring and training. As you can imagine, this was an enormous task.” The 2001 opening of new Adventure stores in Stoney Creek and Maple saw hundreds of job applicants turning up for job fairs in advance of the store openings. That year would also be one of the toughest ever at Fortinos with a 17-day employee strike. The strike was very difficult for everyone. Employees at all levels felt the strain as they were forced to take sides. Unavoidably, a rift was created between management and employees at the store level. Everyone had to work hard at healing that after the strike ended, but it took time. One of the most unusual aspects of the strike was the fact that the stores remained open throughout – a feat that had never been achieved in the industry. The head office management team was put to work in the stores, and employees who believed the company had put forward a fair offer were crossing picket lines. By day 15, more than 54 per cent of employees had abandoned the strike. Following the strike, Fortinos’ management initiated a comprehensive employee survey that provided insights into what employees liked and disliked. As a result, training programs were enhanced and expanded. It also sparked creation of an Assistant Store Manager (ASM) training program to provide opportunities for those wanting to advance their careers. Many of its graduates went on to become franchise owners. Growth continued and in early 2003 the biggest store to date – Queen’s Plate in Etobicoke – opened at 96,000 square feet as Loblaw and its banner companies moved into non-food merchandising in a bigger way to combat expansion by the multi-national discounters, including Wal-Mart. “At that time, the stores were getting bigger and bigger as we moved into a whole new range of non-food merchandising,” says Paolo Presutti. The Queen’s Plate opening marked the debut of two new features – the Refresh cosmetics department with a 12-foot jewelry counter, and self-scanning


Franchisee John Crnogorac at the Waterdown Fortinos – the small store was an exception to the Adventure concept stores, but gave Fortinos a strong hold in the fast-growing community.

“ At the time, the stores were getting bigger and bigger as we moved into a whole new range of non-food merchandising.”

check-out counters. The new store also featured a greatly expanded housewares department along with kids clothing. At Meals To Go, a new line of Chinese food dinners were introduced to meet the needs of a diverse customer base surrounding the Etobicoke store. By the fall of 2003, the Queen’s Plate store was eclipsed by another opening – Highway 7 & Brisdale – which at 120,000 square feet was the largest yet. The non-food offering was expanded exponentially – the store was stocked with Calvin Klein jeans, Sony brand televisions and electronics – Xbox, Game Boy and more. “We had to go through a lot of trial and error,” Franchise Owner John Mancini said at the time, adding that the experience of setting up the grocery side and the non-food side was like opening ‘two stores in one.’ “Setting up new departments like electronics and cosmetics took a great deal of extra time and people. The amount of stock just kept coming and coming.” The opening marked another first – Fortinos at the pumps. The full-service gas bar was committed to being the low-price leader on the busy Highway 7, while rewarding motorists with 3.5 cents per litre back in Auto Cash that could be used for grocery

The opening of a mammoth 120,000-squarefoot store in Brampton put Fortinos into the non-food game in a big way. It also marked the introduction of Fortinos at the pumps with Autocash offering.


The new Refresh department brought a full range of cosmetics to Fortinos. Inset, a customer views the jewellery display.

Hamming it up in the new Kids Kloz department are Franchise Owners Vince Lettieri and Nino Beltrano.


The debut of electronic departments put walls of TV sets and other home entertainment items on display.

“ At that time, the stores were getting bigger and bigger as we moved into a whole new range of non-food merchandising.””

The focus was shifting to continuous improvement through in-store training programs as the Fortinos chain continued growing through 2004.

shopping. At the same time, construction crews were busy with an $8-million renovation at Fortinos Mall Road. The project would add 36,000 square feet, requiring the removal of the side and front walls of the store in separate stages. Franchise Owner Nino Gallo notes much of the work was done during cold winter months, providing additional challenges. Added Paolo Presutti at the time: “With the winter that we’ve had it’s been unbelievable keeping the expansion moving along and the customers happy, while at the same time trying to keep (shopping) conditions to our standards.” The last of the Adventure concept stores was unveiled in 2004 with the opening of a 95,000-squarefoot location replacing No Frills on Main Street West in Hamilton, giving Fortinos access to markets from the lower city as well as Dundas. Lucy Caluori, daughter of company co-founder Stan Filice, opened the store as Franchise Owner, realizing a life-long dream of having her own Fortinos store.

That same year, winds of change were in the air. The Fortinos flyer went online for the first time, and Loblaw Companies announced plans to consolidate management from all of its banners, including Fortinos, under one roof at a new headquarters to be built alongside Highway 407 in Brampton. The transition would see Fortinos management move first to Cambridge where the team was merged with Zehrs, before settling into new corporate offices at 1 President’s Choice Circle in Brampton. Fortinos entered the Oakville market for the first time when it acquired an existing Loblaws Supermarket location on Lakeshore Road. It was converted into a Fortinos supermarket to take aim at a competitive newcomer in town, American-based Whole Foods which had recently opened its first area store nearby. Fortinos was viewed as the banner best able to tackle this new competitive threat. Franchise Owner John Crnogorac took on the location, moving back to his home town from Waterdown where he had been Franchise Owner since 1999. Over the coming years, the Fortinos operations, merchandising and marketing functions were absorbed into the Loblaw Companies family as consolidation continued.


Pictured above: The Fortinos head office team gathers in front of the Highway 20 & 53 location in 2005. Inset are all franchise owners at that time, and founder John Fortinos.




A New Beginning

Today’s Fortinos senior management team joins Executive Vice President Vince Scorniaenchi in the foyer of the company’s headquarters on Hamilton’s Rymal Road. Pictured from left: Joe Zukiel, District Manager; Davide Stefano, Senior Director, Grocery, General Merchandise & HBC; Chris Wacholc, Senior Director, Finance; Nick Chirichella, Senior Director, Meat & Seafood; Diana Fiorino, Director Human Resources; Anita Ionni, Director, Training & Development; Guido Alfonsi, Senior Director, Deli, Bakery & HMR; Sergio Mazzuca, Senior Director, Produce & Floral; John Sgrignuoli, Vice President, Merchandising; Beverly Wright, Director, Marketing; Antonella Beltrano-Schillaci, Senior Manager, Business Process Support; and Paolo Presutti, Director, Store Design.



ORTINOS TODAY IS A company in transition, with a future that looks brighter than ever as the company repositions itself as a premier provider of quality, fresh food products at competitive prices. The transition back to a self-managed banner within the Loblaw family of companies is restoring the Fortinos uniqueness that has made it successful. Former chief executive Vince Scorniaenchi, who agreed in early 2010 to lead a new Fortinos Head Office team created to support the stores, said he is grateful to Galen Weston Jr. for his confidence in the Fortinos management team. “The Weston family has always been very supportive, recognizing our past successes and providing us with the opportunity to re-energize the Fortinos organization so that we can focus on the things that matter. As a result, we have been able to achieve significant improvements in a short period of time. And of course there is still lots to be done.” Fortinos has already taken steps to enhance its offerings in fresh foods, which will be the main focus of the company in the years ahead. “Fortinos is about food – giving our customers the best quality and the best selection at very competitive prices. The only exception to that will be certain markets where we will offer the Joe Fresh clothing lines.” A new corporate headquarters opened in June 2010 on Rymal Road on the east Hamilton Mountain, not far from the former corporate headquarters on Glover Road. One of the new management team’s first tasks was to meet with Franchisees throughout the company to learn about their concerns. One goal was to determine what kind of support they would need. Another pressing issue was the need to refresh Fortinos stores, some of which had been open for 15 years with very little updating. By the end of 2011, nine stores had been renovated and updated with a new interior signage package, expanded bulk and natural foods offerings, a revamped Pharmacy, and new ground-floor Community Rooms. “The idea was to freshen and modernize the existing Adventure stores while


“The biggest challenge was to re-establish the things that had made Fortinos so successful in the past. We have seen significant improvements in a short period of time, but there is still lots to be done.” addressing today’s trends,” explains Paolo Presutti, Director Store Design. Those trends include a growing need for readyto-eat meals, natural foods, organics and bulk foods. As for the latter, Fortinos is addressing a need that has been dismissed by many of the company’s competitors. “I’ve watched the supermarket industry as a whole getting out of bulk for many years,” Vince says. “These retailers felt the demand just wasn’t there. At the same time, I’ve seen the Bulk Barn growing dramatically to more than 100 locations. By expanding our bulk foods department, we allow our customers to eliminate another stop for food-related items.” Paolo says the elimination of PhotoLab departments in existing stores created an ideal opportunity to once again emphasize the company’s commitment to community. “By putting community activities in a highly visible part of our store, it not only creates excitement but it tells our customers we are very serious about partnering with the communities we serve.” Also updated were Pharmacy departments, creating a look that denotes a higher level of professionalism, says Paolo. “Our pharmacies have always been very professional, very customer-oriented but the physical format was more discount oriented. The new layout with private consultation and waiting areas tells our customers we are serious about taking care of their health-care needs.” The focus on health and wellness includes Nature’s Treasure, Fortinos’ health food department that offers fresh, natural meats, gluten-free breads,

The new-look Pharmacy is customer friendly, with comfortable waiting areas and private consultation rooms.

bulk foods, organic foods along with vitamins and supplements. New to Nature’s Treasure is the fact that most departments are now staffed with a Registered Holistic Nutritionist. This reflects Fortinos’ commitment to providing the highest level of service by offering professional expertise. In addition, Community Rooms are now an integral part of the Fortinos experience. Eight new Community Rooms were opened in 2011, bringing the total chain-wide to 11. Community Rooms are a great link back to the communities we serve providing room rentals to charitable and business groups, birthday party packages, as well as cooking classes for all ages and interest levels The renovations also included construction of a dedicated organics area in the produce departments. This change includes a new feature called Wild About Mushrooms, offering a huge variety of fresh and dried mushroom varieties. “Fortinos has always been distinctively different, offering customers fresh products they can’t find elsewhere. Mushrooms are something you can use in almost any dish, and our variety gives people an opportunity to experiment with new flavours.”

Fresh Meat & Seafood The return to fresh, hanging ‘rail’ beef in August, 2010 makes Fortinos unique in the Ontario supermarket industry, says Nick Chirichella, Senior Director Meat and Seafood. “We are the only major chain with fresh hanging beef in the store,” notes Nick, who joined Fortinos in 1998 as meat manager at Lawrence & Allen in Toronto. “We want to be the supermarket that gives customers the freshest quality of cuts of meat along with service they can’t find elsewhere.” Nick says Fortinos buyer Zack Milisa travels


Wild About Mushrooms gives Fortinos customers a broad selection of fresh mushrooms as well as exciting dried varieties.

to local abattoirs to inspect the product where he personally stamps the beef he is purchasing. “Then Zack visits the stores to ensure the suppliers are delivering the product he approved. You have to stay on top of things, but it is worth it in the end.” Zack also buys fresh Ontario veal, most of it coming from local growers with whom he has developed relationships. Another benefit of the ‘rail’ beef program is variety. “When you are bringing in full sides, you are able to get a lot of cuts you won’t find in traditional supermarkets that purchase pre-cut boxed meats,” notes Nick. “You are also able to provide cuts the way the customer wants them, and we are getting a lot of positive feedback in the stores as a result of restoring our fresh meat program.” Restoration of the rail beef program has been a challenge on many fronts from receiving the carcasses to cutting. “We were fortunate to keep most of our meat cutters during the time that we no longer carried rail beef, but we did lose some good people. We are implementing a meat cutter training program to address this issue, and to provide opportunities for those wanting to become meat cutters.”


Fortinos has also gotten back to basics with its pork program, moving away from ‘seasoned’ or moisture enhanced meats that are injected with a saline solution. “A lot of our customers are pleased that they can buy pure, fresh pork that hasn’t been tampered with. Our fresh pork, like our beef, is Ontario grown.” Nick and his team have also renewed Fortinos’ relationship with Rowe Farms to provide customers with antibiotic-free and hormone-free meats, poultry, lamb, pork, eggs and cured products. “We like the fact that Rowe Farms is committed to humane treatment of the animals – the end product is better because of it.” Seafood has also received greater attention since 2010, Nick adds. “We are focused on making our seafood offering as important as any of our fresh products. Our variety is much stronger now, and it is being promoted in a stronger way. For instance, we had seafood on the back page of our flyer every week for a full year. We want our customers to know we are serious about seafood.” The seafood departments are also partners in the Loblaw Sustainable Seafood program, which makes a commitment to source all seafood from sustainable sources by the end of 2013. “We have already demon

All Fortinos pork sausages start with pure Ontario pork shoulders. Meat cutter Nancy Nichols pauses from her work, trimming the pork to exacting standards.

strated our commitment by refusing to carry seafood that has been red-listed as endangered by the World Wildlife Foundation. You won’t find Chilean sea bass or skate on our counters anymore.” That commitment also covers canned, frozen, fresh, wild and farmed seafood products in all categories.

Fortinos Signature Sausages While Fortinos signature line of fresh pork sausages isn’t new, the commitment to building on the success of the program has shifted into high gear since the opening of Fortinos’ Hamilton Head Office, which is located directly beside the sausage facility. “We now have 20 varieties of Fortinos sausages,” says Nick, noting the launch of new lines throughout 2011 and 2012 have been well received. “All of our sausages are made with 100 percent fresh Ontario pork. We don’t use binders or fillers, and there are no additives. If it’s honey sausage, for instance, we add pure Canadian honey to the base of pork, salt and pepper. If it’s Mexican, we add fresh jalapeno peppers and sweet red peppers.” Jim Hanes, Processing Facility Manager, says the facility meets the strict standards of the Ontario

Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), assuring quality and food safety for Fortinos customers. “This product is absolutely unique in the market,” Jim adds. “We start with pure pork shoulders, and just trim the fat to achieve the proper mix. A lot of people think sausages are ground-up scraps of meat. That may be the case for some sausages, but that’s not how we do it here.” Jim adds his team of about 20 employees produces thousands of sausages daily along with fresh kabobs for all Fortinos stores. “Our production is higher during the summer barbecue season, but Fortinos’ sausages are popular all year.

Fresh Produce Fresh produce has deep roots within Fortinos, dating back to the earliest days when John Fortino drove to the Toronto market daily to personally select fruits and vegetables. Those roots are flourishing today under the watchful eye of Sergio Mazzuca, Senior Director, Produce, whose love of everything produce has enhanced the shopping experience at Fortinos for more than 30 years. “Since re-opening our Head Office in 2010 we


Fresh kabobs are turned out by the thousands weekly by a dedicated team, from left: Gladys Posada, Martha Ballesderos, Diana Lopez, Gladys Pinzon, and Nancy Nichols.

Sausage maker Paul Ford feeds breakfast links through a cutter just before packaging.


The Bulk Collection department offers Fortinos customers a staggering array of more than 600 loose bulk items.

have been focused on getting back to what made us so successful in the past,” says Sergio. “It’s no different now than 30 years ago – our belief is that you should never offer the customer anything that you wouldn’t buy yourself.” Toward that end, Sergio went looking for a better way to get fresh produce from farm to shelf more quickly and more efficiently. “The ability to give your customers the best variety of the newest, freshest produce every day of the week, is what makes a great food store. The results have been dramatic – seasonal produce is hitting the shelves faster than the competitors, and Fortinos’ produce is a step above what consumers find elsewhere. Changing times also provide nimble operators like Fortinos an opportunity to jump ahead of the competition. “One of the biggest trends today in produce is the shift toward organics, and we are definitely leaders in that area. We know that over the next 20 years, organics will come to represent the majority of our sales.” Fortinos has added a dedicated organics section in each produce department, featuring more than 100 different products at any given time. “Our competitors

carry only 40 to 50. We are becoming a destination shop for people who want organic fruits and vegetables. We are by far leading the growth of sales in organic produce within the Loblaw organization, and the retail industry as a whole.” Another innovation in produce is the development of a new mushroom merchandising centre called Wild About Mushrooms. “This is something that is appealing to ‘foodies’, but we know over time will appeal to a much broader audience as well. We offer 12 types of dried mushrooms, and an abundant variety of fresh mushrooms. Customers are telling us they are going home to research recipes for dried mushrooms, and then coming back to stock up. Again, this is another way we can make Fortinos a destination shop.” In produce, everything old is new again as evidenced by this year’s Roma tomato program, notes Sergio. Instead of selling tomatoes in boxes like every other retailer, Fortinos returned to the tried-and-true method of selling Romas in bushels so consumers can see and feel the quality. “We increased sales by more than 40 percent simply by giving our customers something they can’t get anywhere else. Bringing back the


things we know that our customers expect and rely on will make us successful.”

Bulk Foods

The expansion of Fortinos’ bulk foods department restores a focus that had been lost through the years, taking advantage of a market opportunity that is being overlooked by most major supermarket chains, says Sergio, who guided the development of new bulk food centres installed during store renovations. “We have more than 600 lines of loose bulk displayed with state-of-the-art merchandising. That’s in line with the product lines carried by Bulk Barn, and our pricing is often better. We have even hired fulltime managers to run the departments – we are very serious about our bulk food business.”

Our Flyer In September 2010, Ontario consumers got a taste of how fresh and dynamic a grocery flyer could be. The relaunch of the Fortinos’ flyer program made it abundantly clear that Fortinos was back as Ontario’s premier fresh foods retailer. “The look and feel of our flyer made a clear statement that we were back in business in a big way,” says Beverly Wright, Director, Marketing, who joined the company with a mandate to create and launch a flyer that would clearly differentiate Fortinos from its competitors. “The Fortinos’ flyer had become part of the Loblaw corporate program over the previous few years, and during that time lost much of its personality and identity. The flyers for each of the Loblaw banners were the same – just the name would be changed. My role, when I joined Fortinos, was to develop and launch a flyer that would tell the unique Fortinos’ story with a clear brand identity and personality.” The result was stunning. Customers loved the new look, the size, and the feel. Instead of using traditional newsprint, the Fortinos flyer was printed on heavy, glossy paper with the implicit message that Fortinos was about fresh foods, selection, quality and value. “There was some concern that the glossy stock would send the wrong message about our prices, but when we presented it to customer focus groups they loved it,” says Beverly. The flyer was created to tell the story about Fortinos freshness, and about its unique product offerings. “At the end of the day, there aren’t too many supermarkets that make their own products. Our line of sausages is exceptional. We also launched a grain-fed Tuscan-Style


Pulling together the Fortinos flyer is a recurring task for Flyer Co-ordinator Andrea Beres, left, and Beverly Wright, Director, Marketing.

chicken, Pane Fresco breads, biscuits, biscotti and muffins – all products that are unbeatable in the market. Our flyer lets us tell these stories very effectively.” The task of preparing, printing and distributing 600,000-plus flyers on an almost weekly basis is demanding and unrelenting. “I have a merchandising calendar for the whole year that is our bible,” says Beverly. The front pages of the flyer focus on Fresh – meats and poultry, the deli and cheese departments, bakery, bulk foods, produce and seafood. Organics has its own space as well. “It’s really all about what makes Fortinos unique.” Beverly notes Fortinos invested heavily in photography to further enhance the focus on fresh. “We wanted to firmly establish our own brand identity and personality. For instance, you will never see photos of cooked products – our fresh meats are pictured raw because that gives the best impression of what the product looks like and our customers understand that. Cooked photos may look lovely, but they are not representative of what we are selling at store level.” Although the flyer is also posted online weekly at, Beverly says customers still like getting the printed version. “People have said the Internet would make printed flyers obsolete, but I don’t see that happening. There is a central experience to sitting down and going through the flyer that customers love. We get calls if for some reason our flyer isn’t in the pack. Customers look forward to getting it each week.” Finally, Fortinos Today is a chain of supermarkets committed to delivering service excellence. We are proud to profile all Fortinos franchises on the following pages.


Today the Stores



Store Locations 404


VAUGHAN 400 66 89



407 84 88 BRAMPTON 7















67 86

403 403



81 5



72 65



92 91





48 65 Mall Rd., Hamilton

79 173 Lakeshore Rd. W., Oakville

88 35 Worthington Ave., Brampton

52 700 Lawrence Ave. W., North York

89 55 Mountainash Rd., Brampton

63 330 Queen’s Plate Dr., Etobicoke

80 2911 Major MacKenzie Dr., Vaughan

65 1550 Upper James St., Hamilton

81 115 Hamilton St. N., Waterdown

66 3940 Hwy 7, Vaughan

84 60 Quarry Edge Dr., Brampton

91 21 Upper Centennial Pkwy. S., Stoney Creek

67 1579 Main St. W., Hamilton

85 2515 Appleby Line, Burlington

92 75 Centennial Pkwy. N., Hamilton

72 50 Dundurn St. S., Hamilton

86 54 Wilson St. W., Ancaster

93 5111 New St., Burlington

78 1059 Plains Rd. E., Burlington

87 2025 Guelph Line, Burlington


90 102 Highway 8, Stoney Creek


Fiesta Mall


“One of the things I really enjoy about Fortinos, and this location in particular, is the personal relationships we can build with our customers.” Franchise Owner Joe Caruso


TEPPING INTO FORTINOS Fiesta Mall takes you back in time to the origins of the company, featuring the original layout that set Fortinos apart from its competitors in the early years, a format that continues to stand the test of time even today. “This is the last of the original stores, though it was expanded and updated in 1996 to incorporate newer departments like Gourmet Bean Roast, House of Flowers and Gourmet to Go,” says former Franchise Owner Dwayne Peterson, who moved to Fortinos Upper Centennial in early 2012. The 50,000-square-foot location, which opened in 1984 to replace the original Stoney Creek Fortinos at Highway 8 and Gateshead Crescent, offers fresh meats at one end of the store, fresh produce at the opposite end with dairy across the back. It was part of Fiesta Mall, which included movie theatres and other retail outlets until the mall itself was demolished in 2005. It is one of two Fortinos locations serving the growing community of Stoney Creek, an ethnically diverse community that includes a large number of families of Eastern European origins. Joe Caruso, who took over as Franchise Owner in September of 2012, first joined Fortinos at the Fiesta Mall store in 1984 as a “clean-up kid” working in the meat department. “This is like coming home for me,” says Joe, former meat supervisor at head office. “I know many of the employees because they have been here

since the store opened. I’m also seeing a lot of familiar customer faces.” Fiesta Mall has been tested in recent years with the emergence of aggressive independent retailers which have waged price wars in an effort to steal market share. Before his departure, Dwayne said that with support of head office, “we are starting to see sales increase, and that’s a positive reflection of everyone pulling together to do the right things.” Joe says his goal in his new role is to build on the strengths of the location in preparation for a major expansion slated for 2014. The existing store will be torn down after construction of a new 68,000-square-foot supermarket that will be similar to the newest Fortinos at Appleby and Highway 5 in Burlington. The store, which today employs almost 200 full and part-time employees, is located on a large parcel of undeveloped land that will accommodate the expanded location with plenty of parking. The expansion will create additional employment opportunities while reinvigorating the supermarket shopping landscape in the area. “One of the things I really enjoy about Fortinos, and this location in particular, are the personal relationships we can build with our customers,” adds Joe. “We have a lot to look forward to, but in the meantime we will focus on quality, service and nurturing a winning attitude throughout the store.



Mall Road


“If you want to be a leader, you have to keep changing to meet customer expectations.”

Franchise Owner Nino Gallo


SK FRANCHISE OWNER Nino Gallo about highlights of his 17 years at Fortinos Mall Road, and there’s one topic that keeps coming up – renovations. The location was first renovated in 1989 after Fortinos acquired the former Super Carnaval/ SuperCentre site. The 66,000-square-foot location was considered too big at the time, and was pared down to 50,000 square feet. In 1994, shortly after Nino moved in as franchisee, the store was expanded back to the original size in a $3-million renovation project. “The significance of that renovation was that we brought the fresh departments all together in a market square concept, and introduced some new features such as pharmacy, floral shop, bean roast and ice bar,” says Nino. The fresh Market Square concept would become the norm with all new stores as of 1996, and remains a hallmark of Fortinos today. A bigger challenge came in 2003 when the store, and the plaza it anchors, underwent a major overhaul. Large sections of the plaza were demolished to make way for a 94,000-square-foot location that would better reflect present-day Fortinos while meeting the needs of shoppers on the central Hamilton Mountain for years to come. “We started the renovations in July, and finished the following May. We never closed the store. I can remember outside walls were gone during the winter months and had to be barricaded to keep it warm in


the store. The renovations were completed section by section, and we even had to build a tunnel between the fresh areas and grocery for customer access.” When the new store was unveiled, it was an instant success. “We were very grateful to our staff, to our customers and suppliers that the entire project was completed without an accident. And we were also thankful that most of our customers continued shopping with us despite the inconvenience.” But the story doesn’t end there, Nino notes. The store has recently undergone additional renovations that include a new-look Pharmacy, expanded bulk and natural foods sections and all new interior signage. “If you want to be a leader, you have to change to meet customer expectations. That’s something we’ve done very well.” Through it all, says Nino, his service team has remained loyal and committed to service excellence. “We are fortunate to have many long-time employees, including some who came to us from the original Super Carnaval acquisition.” Community has been part of the culture from the time Nino arrived when he and staff launched an annual golf tournament that raised thousands of dollars for charities including the Heart and Stroke Foundation. The store’s coffee shop was also a daily stop for John Fortino who would visit six days a week, spending time drinking coffee and chatting with long-time friends. “We all miss his presence very much.”




“These renovations have brought the offerings at this store to a higher level, which combined with a solid service team are making us the place to shop in Brampton.” Franchise Owner Jessica Emanuele


PENED IN MARCH 1996 to replace an aging Kennedy Road location, Fortinos Mountainash was an immediate hit. Record numbers of customers poured into the new store, forcing management to lock the doors by 11 a.m. as store capacity reached its limits. Aside from a blockbuster opening, the new location was the last of its kind before a shift towards the revolutionary Adventure concept that defines Fortinos of today. Walking into Mountainash in 2011 you may not have guessed it was Brampton’s first large premier grocery store. Although the ‘arch’ storefront facade was a reflection of the new ‘Adventure’ stores, the interior layout remained classic early Fortinos. Construction Manager Paolo Presutti recalls lastminute efforts to incorporate new design features into this location. “We were well underway with work here as we started development of the Plains Road concept. Mountainash was too far along to do much more than give the front the new look.” Previous Franchise Owner Dwight Collier has moved down the street to a newer, larger Fortinos. He talks with pride about Mountainash and its exceptionally strong team of employees. “My time there represented nine of the best years of my life,” says Dwight. The store currently employs 221 people, including 17 department managers and 30 full-timers.

Dwight says he was pleased the store was turned over to the experienced hands of his successor, Franchise Owner Jessica Emanuele, who stepped into the role just as major renovations were nearing completion in the Fall of 2011. Jessica, who started in the grocery industry more than 20 years ago with Zehrs, says the renovations are well suited to her focus on ‘fresh’. The location is focusing on Bulk, Pharmacy, Floral and Hot Foods to better serve their customers. But the renovation also includes cosmetic improvements with new flooring and fresh paint contributing to the new and improved store. “These renovations have brought the offerings at this store to a higher level, which combined with a solid service team are making us the place to shop in Brampton, and that’s what I’m going for,” adds Jessica, who helped open the Oakville location before moving to Woodbridge as assistant manager. With a diverse client base of Western European, South Asian, and Caribbean ethnicities, Mountainash Fortinos has a vibrant and exciting community to work with. As the hard work finishes up, Jessica and the team will be well prepared to make 2013 their best year yet.



Lawrence & Allen


“You have to be better than your competitor in this environment, and we will continue to be a different type of grocery store.”

Franchise Owner Joe Aiello


INCE CONVERTING from Loblaws in May 1996, the bustling North York Fortinos in Lawrence Square remains on top in one of Fortinos’ most competitive markets. With 22 local competitors, including other Loblaw banners, Fortinos Lawrence & Allen has succeeded by meeting the specific needs of its exceptionally diverse neighbourhood. “Because of where we are located – in the heart of the city – we see a huge variety of ethnic backgrounds. Ethnic products are displayed front and centre – it’s what we pride ourselves on,” says Franchise Owner Joe Aiello. For example, the store features a huge selection of kosher foods with a full aisle of product choices. But Joe recalls walking into his new position at the 65,000-square-foot Lawrence location in 2006 and thinking, “Almost every department needed some change.” The most recent renovation was its largest to date, requiring additional space from its retail neighbours to expand the store’s offering. The extra square footage allowed introduction of a Bean Roast, a full hot foods area, a larger health and beauty section with pharmacy upgrades, an improved organic food selection, plus shiny new grocery shelving throughout the store. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of his managers and 225 employees, Joe is most proud of “bringing the store to the level it’s at today.”


One of Joe’s other key goals was to increase involvement in the community. “Anything to do with our community, I’ll help them – all of them. We are known as a community store and I will do as much as I can to provide some level of support.” Aside from sponsoring multiple children’s sport teams, the store supports a range of community-based organizations representing its ethnic diversity. Customer contact is also paramount, says Joe. “You can walk down our aisles anytime you want, and you are going to find an employee. You can’t say that elsewhere. It’s my philosophy to interact with our customers. I like to make my face visible, and I like to hear what they like or don’t like,” he adds, noting he has come to know many of his customers. With an increase in sales over the past year and renovations planned for 2013, the Lawrence team is looking forward to seeing an entire upgrade of their fresh food section as well as a re-location of the pharmacy to the centre of the store. “You have to be at least a notch better than your competitor in this environment,” says Joe,“and we will continue to be a different type of grocery store.”


Upper Middle


“We are going back to basics. Our fresh side has always been our strongest.”

Franchise Owner Joe Mangiapane


OVING DOWN THE street took Fortinos’ presence in north Burlington to new heights in June 1998. The original location was Fortinos’ first in the city, but the closure of that store was eclipsed by the grand opening of a bigger and better Fortinos boasting 83,000 square feet of exciting products and services. The new location at Upper Middle Road included everything Burlington residents had come to expect from Fortinos including Gourmet Bean Roast, Pizza and Panini and a massive produce department. Jason Zelinski, Franchise Owner at Fortinos Upper James, helped get the Upper Middle location up and running, and highlights the process as one of the most memorable experiences of his career. “We watched the store completely transform. To see the concept, the glamour of the new store develop was truly amazing.” In 2009, the store was expanded to 90,000 square feet when neighbouring retail space became available, taking the location “up one more notch,” says former Franchise Owner Phil Cocchiara, who moved to Ancaster in late 2011. Renovations included new grocery shelving and freezers, an updated pharmacy and produce department, and most notably construction of an expansive Joe Fresh clothing department. Upper Middle Fortinos’ prime shopping complex location made it the first store to open a separate Joe Fresh clothing department. The store-within-a-store concept “has definitely benefited the grocer,” says Phil,

who notes the extra attention to the line has been drawing new customers in. In order to make room for Joe Fresh apparel, Phil says they had to scale back on other areas of general merchandise such as patio furniture. Phil predicts the company will continue on this path as new concepts continue to emerge. “We are going back to the basics. Our fresh side has always been our strongest.” Finishing touches to outside signage will complete the store’s first major renovation in 13 years. Taking over the store is Franchise Owner Joe Mangiapane, a seasoned grocery veteran who notes the move was quite the homecoming. “We’ve lived in this area for more than 30 years, so I am seeing lots of familiar faces.” Although Upper Middle is anticipating some new competition in the area, Joe is confident they will retain their customer base, noting the store’s community involvement continues to build customer loyalty. “One of our strongest efforts is the annual bike ride for Heart and Stroke that’s been running for 13 years. The event not only raises money for an important cause but it also brings staff closer together.” Joe, who worked previously with another retailer before joining Fortinos in the spring of 2011, says he is enjoying getting to know the staff in his new store. With 23 solid managers, 32 full-time employees and approximately 175 part-time staff, Joe is looking forward to seeing the store “go nowhere but up!”




“Giving back to the community has always been important for everyone in our store…”

Franchise Owner Phil Cocchiara


ORTINOS ANCASTER OPENED its doors in the heart of the village in October 1998 amid controversy as residents took up petitions against the newcomer. “Some local people were upset that this store would be too large, that it didn’t fit in with the small-town atmosphere,” says former Franchise Owner Frank Scornaienchi. “But that feeling quickly disappeared once people saw that Fortinos was really part of the community, that we weren’t just another ‘big-box’ store at all. Before long, most people were happy they could shop here in town instead of driving over to the West Mountain in Hamilton.” The Ancaster store’s history actually began on the West Mountain in a 23,000-square-foot Fortinos at Magnolia and Mohawk. That location, a former Super Tops and Safeway store, today carries the No-Frills banner. The team of almost 100 employees built a solid business at Magnolia over an eight-year period, fending off competitive threats from Sobey’s and Costco which opened nearby. When the opportunity came up for a location in the heart of Ancaster, the Magnolia team was ready for the challenge. The new store was almost triple the size at 62,000 square feet, and would require almost 500 employees to get it up and running. Closing the Magnolia location caused some concern for many of the store’s elderly customers who didn’t drive. But implementation of a weekly


bus shuttle that continued for three years eased community concerns. Ancaster was the sixth of the new generation of ‘Adventure’ stores, offering area residents an unheard of selection of goods and services. The store quickly became a focal point in the community, and the bond between employees and customers grew stronger. “Giving back to the community has always been important for everyone in this store, and that’s a tradition that will continue,” says Phil Cocchiara, who took over as Franchise Owner in Ancaster at the end of 2011. Phil adds he appreciates that employees are active with a number of local events including Ancaster’s annual Heritage Day celebrations and the Ancaster Fall Fair. In addition, the team enjoys a strong feeling of camaraderie, with big turnouts for the annual Christmas parties and other store rallies. Phil says the store faced a significant challenge when Wal-Mart opened a Super Store not far away. “Management and employees came together to focus on taking our customer service to an even higher level. I can see that commitment is stronger than ever today.” Fortinos Ancaster employs 260 full and part-time people. The store underwent a significant renovation in 2011 with elimination of the Chef ’s Tour department and expansion of dine-in seating.




“Our strength is definitely our employees, and through them we are able to connect to our community in a meaningful way.” Franchise Owner Tony Simeone


N EXPERIENCED customer service team has helped ease Tony Simeone’s transition into his role as Franchise Owner at Fortinos Eastgate, following the retirement of long-time Franchisee Rose Kirkos in March of 2012. “This is a very competitive market, but the people in this store are very seasoned and know what it takes to build customer loyalty,” says Tony, who started in the retail food business in family fruit markets more than 30 years ago. Tony joined Fortinos in 2000, and after a recent stint as labour specialist at head office, returned to the retail side of the business at Eastgate. Fortinos inherited the Eastgate location when Loblaws purchased the company in 1988. The 44,000-square-foot store was one of the largest in the seven-store chain, situated at the eastern edge of Hamilton next to the growing community of Stoney Creek. The grand opening was remarkable in itself – thousands turned out in a raging snowstorm for a sneak peak during a Sunday evening, ‘no-shopping’ preview. The crowds kept coming, helping the store set sales records during its first weeks. The opportunity to expand came in 2001, and Fortinos erected an entirely new building on the mall’s north-facing wall. The new store more than doubled the space to 90,000 square feet, introducing specialty departments that had become standard fare within Fortinos. More recent renovations included the addition of the popular Joe Fresh clothing line, a makeover of the

Rose Kircos

cosmetic section, an expansion and re-location of the bulk section and a new glassed-in Community Room that showcases the store’s long-standing history of community involvement. The new Community Room is home to a variety of cooking classes, birthday parties as well as community and local business events, all posted on a large calendar. Community has always been important to the team at the store, and staff are particularly proud of the Bingo Fundraiser which once raised a total of $30,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. Before retiring, Rose expressed her sincere appreciation to her valued employees Maria Cairo, Maureen Alfano, Teresa Barracosa, Mary Floria, Diane Richards, Georgina Jovasevic and Sheron Brejak, who are vital contributors to community efforts. “I have some very dedicated people here who volunteer on a monthly basis.” Rose, who worked her way up in the company as a head cashier and then bookkeeper at the Magnolia store on Hamilton’s West Mountain, says she liked the fact that today “there’s still that family feel”. Events such as the annual Breakfast with Santa gathering for employees and their families will continue to strengthen the bond between Fortinos Eastgate employees. Today Tony is optimistic about the future of Fortinos, describing the mood as “invigorating”. “The experience we deliver is different than what you will find elsewhere – we greet customers with a smile, our store is always clean, we work on food safety diligently, and the quality and freshness of our food is second to none.”



Queen’s P late


“There’s no question we are different than any other grocer. Our commitment to quality, fresh foods sets us apart.”

Franchise Owner Fab Santangelo


HEN FORTINOS opened its revolutionary concept supermarket on Queens Plate Drive in February 2003, Etobicoke was more than ready. Customers were astonished by the open design, and excited to find departments never seen before in a grocery store. This type of response does not surprise Franchise Owner Fab Santangelo. “We’ve always been different than any other grocer, or even other banners within the company. There’s an elegant feel.” The new Etobicoke store launched Fortinos into the clothing business with specialty departments Trendy Kloz for Kids and Wearunder, giving the store a full range of clothing options that could dress infants and adults from head to toe. In step with the times, Queen’s Plate also featured a Holy Smokes shop, an in-store Photo Lab and a PC Financial kiosk. After renovations, Queens Plate became the first Fortinos to introduce the Joe Fresh clothing line, replacing the earlier departments. The renovations also eliminated Holy Smokes, and replaced traditional film processing with Kodak Kiosks, creating space for a Community Room, a revolutionary bulk section and expansion of organic fresh food. Fab notes that after 50 years in the business, Fortinos is refocusing on food and less on general merchandise. “The company realized, we had the best food – we still have the best food so let’s stick to that.”


With thousands of new customers walking through the door each week and a base of approximately 215 employees, Fab says, “It takes a true people person to be successful in the business. You can never be fully trained for what you are going to encounter because every situation is going to be different.” Developing a valuable presence in the community is part of creating that human connection. Fab and his employees work with local schools and support afterschool activities. The Queen’s Plate team attempts to foster generosity and community service at a young age by getting kids excited about helping their local neighbourhood. The store has led several successful campaigns for the PC Children’s Charity resulting in significant grants to support many local families. Fab says this kind of work brings employees and customers together, and continues to maintain “the family feel of the business”. When his career started at Fortinos in 1996, Fab recalls, “There was no watching the clock. We were happy to be there and determined to get the job done.” Fab holds the same outlook today and is confident his team will maintain progressive sales increases seen over the past five years.


Hwy 7 & Brisdale


“Our focus is on being the premier fresh food retailer in the Brampton market.”

Franchise Owner Dwight Collier


HEN FORTINOS HWY 7 and Brisdale opened in 2003, it was one of the largest in the chain at 120,000 square feet, offering the broadest range of non-food merchandise in Fortinos’ history. The idea at the time was to compete more aggressively with large-format competitors by offering the ultimate one-stop shopping experience. Today, after recent renovations, the store layout has been reduced by 20,000 square feet. Franchisee Dwight Collier and his service team of 270 employees are tackling the competition with a new focus – quality fresh foods and a commitment to service excellence and the community. “We have created a more intimate and focused shopping experience with the new layout, eliminating non-food merchandise items, and replacing them with expanded specialty lines such as natural foods,” says Dwight. The philosophy behind it all, he adds, is to make Fortinos the market’s “premier fresh food retailer”. That focus paid off when Wal-Mart opened a Superstore nearby. “When one of the world’s largest retailers moves up the street, there’s no question you are going to feel it,” says Dwight. “But our service team was well prepared, and our dedication to quality is paying off. We have been pleasantly surprised by how little impact Wal-Mart is having on us.” Dwight joined Fortinos in 1993 at the Jane & Wilson store before settling in as Franchise Owner at Brampton’s Mountainash store for nine years. Since

moving to Brisdale in May of 2011, Dwight has enjoyed getting to know his team of employees. “I am very proud to be part of a business that is distinctive,” he notes. “We truly are like a big family, giving support to one another and demonstrating strong core values.” Walk up the stairs to the Community Room and you’ll find walls overflowing with pictures, awards and thank-you letters from local organizations. Annie Sukhram, Community Room Coordinator, has built strong relationships with local food banks, government, schools, small business and local area community groups. The store has partnered with the Peel Regional Police for a now annual ‘Cram a Cruiser Food Drive’ that gets customers and local schools involved in helping the community. In addition, the Community Room hosts a nonprofit organization twice per month called United Achievers, who have become known as the Fortinos Seniors. Dwight notes the store makes a dedicated effort to help every local school in some way. Whether providing water and freezies for the McCrimmon Middle School Terry Fox Run or food to the Rowntree School for families in need, the Brisdale Fortinos is committed to extending their arm to all areas of the community. Dwight and his team are committed to surpassing customer expectations – and the competition.



Upper James


“Our strength is people. There’s a saying in our store that everyone has worked here longer than me. It makes us special.”

Franchise Owner Jason Zelinski


ORTINOS UPPER JAMES HAS always been about close connections and friendly customer service. The teamwork and dedication that went into building the first Fortinos built from scratch, created a strong structure and an exceptional group of employees. At 52,000 square feet, the location remains one of the smallest stores in the network. It employs 150 people, many of whom transferred from the Mohawk and Wellington Fortinos that closed in March of 1994 to make way for Upper James. There is a closeness at the store that makes employees want to stay. Current Franchise Owner Jason Zelinski jokes, “Everyone has been here longer than me!” The staff ’s positive energy is felt throughout the store, helping to build a solid base of long-term customers. Jason says the location has “a great customer mix”, with lots of seniors and young families. “There is that customer who still wants a clean store, high quality produce and meat, but does not want the big squarefootage,” says Jason. Large-scale renovations in 2009 were the first the store saw in almost 15 years. Improvements maintained the traditional style of the store with a fresh paint job, new signage and updated refrigeration. Adding new departments such as Foods of the World, natural foods, a bulk section, floral shop and hot foods made it look like a brand new store.


Jason says he uses his community board to encourage local residents to get involved with store events. “I do as much as I can to help any worthy cause,” says Jason who regularly offers food and beverages to sponsor local fundraising events. One special event the store supports is the annual Yearbook Event to assist families of the Hamilton Police Force and Fire Department who have lost a loved one. The store also stays close to its community by hosting hotdog and pizza lunches at local schools, pasta dinners at churches and support for Girl Guides and Boy Scouts fundraising. Contributing to main charities of the Fortinos network such as the PC Children’s Charity and the Heart and Stroke Foundation will always remain important to Jason as well. Since starting his career with Fortinos at a young age in 1985, Jason has always valued the Fortinos culture. The Fortinos banner is “just different”. “We have hanging beef, not boxed beef. The standards for the size and quality of our produce are higher. Our customer service is better – this is what sets us apart.”


Hwy 7 & Ansley


“You have to change with your community and give the consumer what they need. You can’t take everything to heart, but you have to listen.” Franchise Owner Sal Ippolito


ORTINOS WAS AN INSTANT hit in Woodbridge. With a large base of European residents, sales took off and it wasn’t long before management knew it was time for an upgrade. In 1994 Fortinos opened a new 66,000-squarefoot location just down the street on Hwy 7 and Ansley. As anticipated, Woodbridge customers loved the new look, and the location quickly became one of our top sellers. Today the store remains on top. “We are still gaining sales after 15 years,” says Franchise Owner Sal Ippolito. “Woodbridge has a flare of its own. We are lucky to have good clientele – very demanding – but very good.” With three Walmart Superstores, a Costco and several other big and small retailers within a short distance, Sal says he and his team know “we always have to be on top of our game.” In October 2010, the Woodbridge location underwent a major makeover. The addition of 15,000 square feet allowed Sal and his team to add the popular Joe Fresh Line, an impressive bulk section, a larger organic and natural foods department and a mainfloor Community Room. Despite beginning major renovations during the busiest season of the year, Sal says his team came together to pull the bulk of the work off in only two months.

He stresses that strong teamwork is the most critical factor in the store’s success. “Trying to find and keep good staff can be one of the most difficult challenges in any business. Here the managers take on a lot of responsibilities, they are your go-to people.” Thanks to a strong team that includes assistant managers as well as department managers, Hwy 7 and Ansley Fortinos holds a solid base of approximately 270 dedicated staff members. Sal says he and his team believe in giving back, working with schools, police and firefighters, radio stations and a variety of local volunteers. The store has been working with community members to raise money to build Vaughan’s first hospital. Sal is also planning to work with his team of employees to find new ways to connect with the community. One of the most important lessons he has learned is, “You have to change with your community and give the consumer what they need. You can’t take everything to heart, but you have to listen.”



Main Street West


“We’re more than just a supermarket – we are part of the community.”

Franchise Owner Lucy Caluori


HE 2004 OPENING OF THE 95,000-square-foot Fortinos Main West location both dazzled and worried the local community, which had been accustomed to shopping at its discount predecessor, No Frills, or driving several kilometres to the Dundurn Fortinos. It also fulfilled a life-long ambition of Lucy Caluori, Franchise Owner, who had dreamed of managing her own store from the time she graduated with a marketing diploma from Mohawk College. “Before we opened, there were people who worried our prices would be much higher than No Frills,” Lucy recalls. “They discovered that wasn’t the case at all. From the time we opened our doors, people loved the freshness, the quality and selection. It was so much more than they were used to, and everyone loved the convenience.” But it was the store’s focus on addressing local market needs that sealed the deal. “We recognized that there are over 1,500 Jewish families in this area, so we introduced the largest selection of kosher foods available. That selection has been expanded over time, and is extremely popular.” Lucy’s history with Fortinos goes back – way back. She remembers handling cash at the original tiny shop at King and Glendale when Fortinos was a fledgling partnership between her dad, Stan Filice, John Fortino and Umberto Spagnuolo. “I was only 10, and had trouble calculating how much change to give


people. I had a little pad of paper I used to figure out the change. John (Fortino) used to laugh at me.” She worked in a number of different stores while she was in school, and went on to become head cashier at the Limeridge store on the West Mountain in Hamilton. From there she moved to Head Office, where she held senior positions in Human Resources and non-food merchandising. The Main West location was opened in an era when Fortinos was expanding into non-food merchandising. The non-food items have all but disappeared with the exception of the Joe Fresh clothing line. A 2011 renovation has changed the look and the selection of goods available in the store. “The original design of this store has allowed us to make significant improvements, including a spectacular bulk foods section,” notes Lucy. A hallmark of the store is its Community Room located on the second floor. “We’re more than just a supermarket – we are part of the community. People celebrate significant events here, hold business meetings, and attend our cooking classes. The room is always booked.” Lucy and her team of 250 employees are active in supporting community activities as a way of strengthening their bond with local residents.


Hwy 20 & 53


“We are all about fresh, and no one can do it as well as we do.”

Franchise Owner Dwayne Peterson


ORTINOS HIGHWAY 20 & 53 opened in November 2000 in a strategic location poised to capture the fast growing residential areas of Upper Stoney Creek and Binbrook. The opening marked the closures of two of the earliest Fortinos stores – Mount Albion and Upper Ottawa. Employees from both stores were recruited to man the new 90,000-square-foot location, giving it an edge from the moment the doors opened. Since the store opened, development around it has boomed creating a growing community filled with young families and seniors. While the growth of the local community has brought a steady increase of sales over its first 10 years of operation, the December 2010 opening of a Wal-Mart Superstore in the area was cause for concern. The emergence of new competition put a renewed focus on providing the kind of service people can’t find in big box stores. The store was opened under founding Franchise Owner Vince Lettieri, whose experience and commitment to customer service created a solid foundation. That foundation was needed following his tragic death. “Vince created an excellent service culture within the store, which has given this location true staying power,” said Nick Alfieri, who stepped in as Franchise Owner following Vince’s death. In early 2012, former Fiesta Mall Franchise Owner Dwayne Peterson took the helm, with a commitment to continuing the tradition of community giving.

Community activity has been especially important to the Highway 20 & 53 location. The store ensures seniors have access to quality groceries by offering bus trips to the store every Wednesday. The service team also delivers a number of in-store educational programs through its Pharmacy and Community Room to help promote healthy living. Dwayne, who joined Fortinos in 1983 as a transport driver ferrying fresh produce daily from the Ontario Food Terminal in Etobicoke to each Fortinos location – “there was no warehouse in those days,” – became a Franchise Owner in 2002 after successfully completing a year-long Assistant Manager Training Program. He had gained solid management skills supervising the Fortinos Distribution Centre on Glover Road up until its merger with Loblaw distribution in 2001. Major renovations in 2010 added main-floor Community Room, Joe Fresh clothing, a new bulk section and an expanded natural foods department. Dwayne says he feels confident that with the support of his team of 230 employees that Fortinos Upper Centennial will continue building a loyal base of customers by always staying a step ahead of the competition. “We are all about fresh, and no one else can do it as well as we do,” adds Dwayne.



Hwy 10 & Bovaird


“We are giving customers good reasons to walk in our direction, and not to the competition next door.” Franchise Owner Joey Cosentino


HE OPENING OF FORTINOS at Hwy 10 and Bovaird in February 1996 gave shoppers more options than ever with 70,000 square feet and exciting new departments that were unveiled at Plains Road in Burlington earlier that year. The store, which replaced the former Main & Vodden location, set sales records on opening day, and remains a top performer despite the opening of a Wal-Mart Superstore directly across the parking lot. “We are giving customers a reason to walk in our direction instead of the other,” says Joey Cosentino, who took over as Franchise Owner at the location in 2011. In addition to continuously expanding its product and prepared food offerings, Joey attributes the store’s success to the company’s diligent focus on “cleanliness, variety, freshness and great customer service”. Recent renovations included an expanded organic foods section, bulk foods, pharmacy upgrades, an impressive Community Room and the popular Joe Fresh clothing line. Fortinos fosters meaningful relationships between the business and its customers, says Joey, noting his team supports fundraising campaigns such as the PC Children’s Charity and the Heart and Stroke Foundation.


A Trip to Italy Grand Prize winners

In addition, the store focuses on contributing to local schools and groups for troubled teens. One of Joey’s main goals is to increase the store’s involvement in the community. “I think it is important to make an emotional connection with our customers – that makes us different.” One of the aspects Joey loves about the location is the “the multicultural feel” of his clientele. Joey started with Fortinos at age 17 as a sales clerk for the Albion and Kipling location. Over 11 years he worked at a variety of locations around the GTA moving from sales clerk to receiver to Assistant Manager before landing the position in Brampton. Joey is very proud of Hwy 10 & Brisdale’s progress adding, “We really are right where we need to be.”


South Oakville

“The layout of our store presents some challenges, but we overcome any objections by giving our customers the best possible service.” Franchise Owner John DiBenedetto


STORE DESIGNED OVER two floors presents a unique experience for both employees and customers at Fortinos Oakville. The store, which is situated on Lakeshore Road, features two-storey-high front windows overlooking the affluent neighbourhoods nestled along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. “I love this store, and I love the location,” says Franchise Owner John DiBenedetto, adding he likes to arrive early to enjoy the morning sun as it streams through the store’s windows. “The layout does present some challenges for our customers, but that just means we have to deliver superior service every day to negate the little bit of inconvenience created by the layout.” The same holds true for employees, who must move the bulk of the store’s products via conveyors from the receiving dock to the second floor, which houses most major departments. Since taking over the 60,000-square-foot store in 2011, John has overseen renovations which have moved the Pharmacy to the ground floor, and expanded the bulk and natural foods departments and Bean Roast. The last major overhaul was completed in 2006 when Fortinos acquired a former Loblaws store to become the company’s only location in Oakville.

John worked at the Mohawk and Upper Ottawa Fortinos as a teenager, before joining the company permanently in 1995. After stints as Director of Meat Operations and later labour relations, he enrolled in the company’s Assistant Manager Training Program. His first store as Franchisee was Upper Ottawa and Larch in 1998 before moving to Fiesta Mall. At Fortinos Oakville, customers park their cars in a covered lot below the building, and use escalators with special cart conveyors and elevators to reach the main shopping areas on the second floor. In addition to the Pharmacy, the ground floor includes Floral, Customer Service and administration offices. John says his team of 160 employees must hit superior service standards consistently to ensure that they exceed the expectations of the affluent customer base. “There is a lot of quality competition in this market, and expectations of our customers are high.” That’s why you’ll often find John and his management team on the front lines, setting the example of service excellence.





“We are particularly conscious about helping our customers live healthier lives. That makes us different than other retailers.” Franchise Owner Sam Marchese


HE 1988 GRAND OPENING of Fortinos Dundurn marked the beginning of a new direction for Fortinos, punctuating a momentous victory over Super Carnaval and a newly developing relationship with Loblaw Companies which had just purchased Fortinos. Shoppers began lining up at 6 a.m. on a frigid January morning to see the transformation of the 66,000-square-foot location, where extensive renovations had been successfully completed over the Christmas holidays. Hamilton Mayor Bob Morrow was on hand to assist John Fortino in an official ribbon-cutting. Dundurn marked the introduction of new departments like the Gourmet Bean Roast, and a renewed focus on in-store bakeries, including the first Montreal-style bagel oven. On March 26, 1996, things looked bleak when an explosion and fire rocked the location at 3 in the morning. Although damage was extensive, the store reopened within a day after employees, spouses, department managers, head office staff and even customers pitched in with an impressive 20-hour clean-up marathon. Franchise Owner Sam Marchese, who took over Dundurn in 2007, notes there have been challenges over the years that have been met successfully, thanks to a dedicated team of employees. At the time Sam moved in, the store was due for renovations that would disrupt operations for a year


to replace grocery shelving, refrigeration as well as a variety of fixtures and signage. Dundurn more recently became the first store to feature a walk-in medical clinic, which Sam says has been extremely positive for the pharmacy department. As Franchise Owner, Sam has been working hard to develop and maintain the prominent reputation established over two decades. He has reinvigorated the store’s kosher department, and his team hosts Seniors Day every second Wednesday, providing transportation for groups of seniors to visit for their regular shopping. There is a strong focus on health, with regular wellness events and a Supermarket Safari for customers dealing with Type 2 Diabetes. Customers are taken on a tour of the store and taught to make informed choices when reading product labels. Most recently, management and staff teamed up to help raise the final $900 for a ground-breaking surgery to help treat their regular customer Lawrence, who has MS. Although the store has had to overcome several hurdles along the way, Sam says, “The incredibly positive response generated by our employees and customers makes the experience more rewarding in the end.”


New Street


“Today we are very much refocused on what’s most important – serving our customers. The focus on fresh, in the store and in our flyer, is bringing people back for sure.” Franchise Owner Photis Kelpis


HILE FORTINOS has been part of Appleby Mall in the southeast part of Burlington since 1990, the company took its presence to a whole new level in the Fall of 1997 with the opening of the fourth of the Adventure concept stores. “Everyone was amazed at the difference,” says Joe Zukiel, who was Franchise Owner at the location until 2008. “We had a fairly small store in the Mall before building this location at the opposite end, and people were blown away by the new store.“ The ‘bigger and better’ Fortinos caught on quickly as area residents were captivated by the huge fresh market area, and variety of new features like Pizza & Panini, House of Flowers and Gourmet Bean Roast. Joe and his team also cemented their relationship with the community through a number of fundraising efforts, including a popular annual pasta dinner at the local Legion. Photis Kelpis, who joined Fortinos in 2011 at the Queen’s Plate location, moved to Appleby in the Fall of 2012 to fill the shoes of long-time Fortinos Franchisee Charlie Alfano. Photis, who has extensive experience in the grocery industry, says he is impressed by the strong commitment to community that is evident throughout the store. The Appleby location had been dealing with a few challenges since 2009 as the Mall itself underwent transformation. That’s when the property owner began tearing down the mall, and replacing it with free-

standing retail buildings all around our store. Today the mall is gone, replaced by free-standing structures in a mini Power Centre set-up. When the current location first opened, its seating area extended from the Bean Roast out into the mall, and was always packed with customers and mall employees, sipping on coffees and enjoying meals from Pizza & Panini and Hot Foods To Go. “We have been working hard to make our customers feel valued and comfortable in our store, regardless of what is going on around us with the construction,” says Photis “Today we are very much refocused on what’s most important – serving our customers. We have been doing refresher blitzes with employees, helping them understand our expectations. The focus on fresh, in the store and in our flyer, is bringing people back for sure.” Photis and his team are excited about planned renovations for the store itself “This store is in need of some changes, but the renovation will also enable us to bring in many of the new Pane Fresco offerings. This will again make us truly unique in our market area.”



P lains Road


“Seniors have high expectations, and we work hard to make sure we meet those expectations every day. Quality and freshness are a must, and service has to be exceptional.” Franchise Owner Paul Anderson


ORTINOS PLAINS ROAD store was considered to be the biggest retail store construction project in Fortinos’ history, costing some $25 million. It was also seen as a game changer in the supermarket industry, with a revolutionary physical layout and departments that had never been seen before in a supermarket. They included a full-service floral shop with walk-in cooler, a pizza and sandwich shop, a cigar store, a health-food store and more. “We opened in the Fall of 1996 with no chance to test how things would work – we had to learn on the fly and together we made it work,” recalls Guido Alfonsi, who took on the store as Franchise Owner from its conception, through the opening and managed steady growth for nearly 15 years before passing the reins to current Franchise Owner Paul Anderson in 2010. The layout and concept became the model for future growth at Fortinos for more than a decade. Paul, who has been involved in the grocery business from the time he was 12 working in his parents’ Mr. Grocer store, stepped into the Plains Road just as it was about to undergo its first major renovation since opening. “I had just completed a major renovation at the Waterdown store when this opportunity came up,” says Paul. He says the renovated store is winning positive feedback from customers, who really like the new-


look Pharmacy, as well as the Community Room and expanded bulk and natural foods. “We didn’t have a Community Room at all in this store, and it is really taking off,” says Paul, noting it was even used in the provincial elections as a polling station. The store caters to a large seniors population in the area, which means Paul and his team are focused on service, service, service. “Seniors have high expectations, and we work hard to make sure we meet those expectations every day. Quality and freshness are a must, and service has to be exceptional.” Paul says he still sees many of his former customers. “There is a lot of cross-shopping between Plains Road and Waterdown. People who live in Waterdown like the convenience of Waterdown for regular shops, but the exceptional selection and variety still brings them here.” As a relative newcomer to the store, Paul says he was happy to have the support of so many employees who have been at Plains Road since the beginning. “There is a lot of knowledge here, and that has really helped me along the way. Together we are continuing to build the business every day.”


Major Mackenzie


“It’s not what you do once competition arrives – it’s what you do before – it’s all about maintaining the best in customer service.” Franchise Owner John Mancini


N AUGUST 2001, FORTINOS on Major Mackenzie Drive launched a thrilling new ride right next to Maple’s best-known landmark, Canada’s Wonderland. At 90,000 square feet the location was our second in the sprawling community of Vaughan, and offered every product and service customers were looking for, including Bean Roast, Pizza and Panini, Foods to Go, one of the largest fresh produce and meat departments, as well as a boutiquestyle Refresh cosmetics section. Situated in a growing community, the store quickly drew in a large base of young families with a diverse ethnic mix of customers. As competition gets tougher Franchisee Owner John Mancini says, “It’s not what you do once competition arrives – it’s what you do before – it’s all about maintaining the best in customer service. If the competition cannot match your standards, your customers will always come back.” Since taking on the location in 2010 at the onset of major renovations, John has seen “a lot of hard work from the entire team.” Improvements including the new design and central location of the pharmacy, the impressive Community Room, the addition of Joe Fresh, a new bulk department, an expansion of natural foods, and new organic produce, have all brought the store to a higher level. The renovations reflected a re-focus on food and everyday needs. Both employees and customers love

the new changes and John enthusiastically predicts, “We are on our way up in Maple!” Despite working with Fortinos for over 20 years, the Franchisee says he is always learning. John considers actively training and coaching his 250 staff members – with the indispensible help of his managers – the most important part of the job. “You are only as good as the people you have,” says John, noting he plans to show his staff appreciation by offering an annual Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for their extra hard work during the busiest seasons of the year. Additional staff events during the holiday season, such as the Christmas Party and Raffle, raise money for the President’s Choice Children’s Charity. John says, “Last year, almost 225 of our staff members came out and we raised $2,500 to help struggling families in the local community give their children Christmas gifts.” John is happy to have the opportunity to get to know his store. “You meet everyone pretty fast, but connecting with your staff on a personal basis takes time. We are definitely on our way.” After 20 years in the business, this is what John loves about the job. “You meet a lot of friends and acquaintances that you don’t realize were all because of Fortinos until you look back.”




“We’re not as big as the competition, but our service is what keeps customers coming through the doors here week after week.” Franchise Owner John MacDonald


ORTINOS RECEIVED A SMALLtown welcome with open arms in 1999. Quebec-based Maxi & Co. closed as the anchor tenant of the plaza in the heart of the village. The location needed a great deal of work to bring it up to Fortinos standards, but the community couldn’t go without a grocery store. In just eight days, refrigeration equipment was torn out and replaced, aisles were completely turned around and the Fortinos banner was put in place. Construction continued for another two months, but residents were just happy to see the doors open, and overlooked any minor inconveniences. They were also delighted with additions that included a Pharmacy, Hot Foods department and PhotoLab. Today, Waterdown is part of Hamilton and is the fastest growing community within the city. Fortinos is sandwiched between two major residential developments that will add 8,500 households over the next eight years. Power centres have sprouted up on the edge of the growing community, and the cozy, 37,000-squarefoot Fortinos store is busier than ever. The store is directly across the street from Waterdown’s Memorial Park, a hotspot of community activity throughout the year. “We have a close relationship with the community; our employees know everyone by name and whenever we do a fundraiser everyone gets on board, including


our customers,” says Franchise Owner John MacDonald, who joined Fortinos in 1987 working on the night crew at the former Limeridge store. Within a year of opening, the dedicated Waterdown service team was recognized by the Flamborough Chamber of Commerce when it was nominated for three Outstanding Business Awards in the categories of Labour Relations, Community Service and Business Growth and Achievement. It was quite the achievement considering the store had been open for only half the year. John notes that the basis of success in Waterdown is the staff, adding many of the employees have been around 30 years or more, including Bonnie Begley, who works in the meat department. Bonnie started with Fortinos in 1981 and helped open the Mount Albion and Greenhill location, the fourth location. The Waterdown location has been through a couple of minor facelifts through the years, but maintains a competitive edge in the community through its approach to service. “We’re not as big as the competition, but our service is what keeps customers coming through the doors here week after week,” notes John.


The Future

Is Here

The evolution of Fortinos’ Adventure concept stores was unveiled with the opening of the new Appleby Line store in Burlington, at top. Fortinos launched its line of Pane Fresco breads in late 2011, above right. Pane Fresco was developed by Marc Albanese, left. He is joined by Pane Fresco General Manager Paul Spagnuolo and Pane Fresco Commissary Bakery Manager Wendy Coles. 75


Appleby Line


Franchise Owner Frank Scornaienchi


ORTINOS FRANCHISE OWNER Frank Scornaienchi thought he had seen it all growing up in the family grocery business. But he can barely contain his enthusiasm as he walks a visitor through the newest Fortinos, an 80,000-square-foot store on Appleby Line at Dundas Street in Burlington. “This is a very unique store, and our customers are loving it,” says Frank, who moved from the Ancaster Fortinos in late 2011 to open the new-concept Fortinos supermarket in the fast-growing area of north Burlington. “Our front-end prepared foods offering, which is built around our new Pane Fresco brand, is outstanding – there’s nothing like it in the Canadian grocery industry.” There’s a sense of calm underlying the excitement from the moment you walk into the store – earth tones, textured finishes including natural stone and soft lighting provide the feel of an entirely new grocery shopping experience. Front and centre is the new Pane Fresco Carvery, offering quality, freshly prepared lunch and dinner items, including fresh prime rib carved to order right before your eyes. “Where else can you get a complete prime-rib dinner for $12.99. The quality is better than you would get at many restaurants,” adds Frank. Carvery employee Zeeshawn Choudhary says the Carvery is changing the way people think about eating out. “We are becoming a dinner destination. I have a


mother and daughter who told me they come in every Saturday night to have our mac and cheese for dinner.” The range of choices for ‘great food fast’ are seemingly limitless. How about 16 varieties of soup? Sales at the soup bar far exceeded expectations from the time the store opened. At the pizza counter you can choose from a brick-oven pizza or the newest specialty – Pane Fresco Roman Pizza, available in a variety of gourmet flavours. Or check out the new salad bar where you can add grilled chicken, beef or salmon as a topping – and watch as it’s fresh-grilled to order. At the hot foods department, whole chickens are being cooked in new ovens that make them tastier and juicier than ever before. Frank notes that all of the fresh prepared food counters are cleared out mid-afternoon and restocked with fresh items for the dinner hour. “We want to be sure that the eating experience is always at its peak, and you can’t do that if you leave foods on the counter too long.” Then there’s The Art of Bread – a revolutionary concept that lies at the heart of the Pane Fresco concept. True artisan breads begin with special doughs that are blended at Fortinos’ new central commissary and are baked fresh daily in special imported ovens to deliver the best quality possible. “These breads are amazing,” says Frank. ‘When you take home a loaf, it won’t last long.”

The Pane Fresco fresh pizza and artisan breads have risen to a new level, with a variety of Roman pizzas as well as Pane Fresco artisan breads (pictured below right), unlike anything you’ll find in other supermarkets. All of the dough is prepared under the watch of Pane Fresco developer Marc Albanese at the Fortinos head office commissary. The dough is delivered and baked fresh daily in specialized ovens.

In the Market Square, structural and signage changes provide a true market feel with awnings and open work areas. The Appleby store, and the next-generation Adventure concept, is all about food and community, notes Frank. “Our Community Room is booked all the time. I expected to see seven or eight bookings per month, but from the time we opened the doors here it has been booked almost every day.” Outside of Fortinos-sponsored events like cooking classes, the line-up regularly includes community and business meetings, charitable group meetings, children’s birthday parties, anniversary celebrations and more. "There's no question that this is a phenomenal, best-in-class supermarket," adds Frank. "But it takes a team of dedicated employees working with a skillful management team to make it successful. We have both in spades."

Fresh soups – 16 varieties of them – are served up fresh and hot every day.


Prime Rib – on a baguette or as a dinner – is available at the Carvery for lunch or dinner.

The Pane Fresco Carvery serves up fresh, hot lunches and dinners daily. 78 FORTINOS FUTURE

“The store was designed to wow our customers from the moment they walk through the doors. You can feel it as you enter – the openness, the textures, the colours. It’s like nothing you have experienced before in a supermarket.” Paolo Presutti, Director Store Design

The dining area, illuminated through the large arch window as well as by contemporary, restaurant-style lighting fixtures, seats up to 128 people in comfort.

A new customer friendly floral cooler makes it easy to select arrangements.

The new store is welcoming with its open, airy feel. FORTINOS FUTURE 79

Uncut cheese wheels in Cheeses of the World add to the fresh market feel.

The fresh produce, seafood and meat departments are all ‘open-air’ market-style areas where employees preparing food are accessible to customers.

The Fresh Meat department has an old butcher shop feel with the awning and open work areas. 80 FORTINOS FUTURE

Pane Fresco Unveiled The opening of the first new Fortinos store in more than six years launches a renewed focus on fresh, with emphasis on a new home-meal replacement program that includes traditional artisan breads, 16 varieties of soups, sandwiches, home-style hot meals and more. The 80,000-square-foot Highway 5 and Appleby Line Fortinos in Burlington, which opened in late November 2011, features a redesigned streetscape that highlights the Pane Fresco brand. It is the first of a new generation of Adventure concept stores, with another scheduled to open in Woodbridge in 2013. The new store layout features vastly expanded seating for in-store dining with a focus on getting customers to make Fortinos a dinner destination as well as a favourite lunch spot. “We have a very strong lunch-time crowd now, and we want to encourage people to consider Fortinos for dinner as well,” says Frank Scornaienchi, Appleby Franchise Owner. “The seating area is much more comfortable than the existing style, with opportunity for a more intimate dining experience. We are moving from 40 to 50 seats in the current design to 125 seats, so it’s basically a restaurant within a supermarket.” Also on the menu is growth. The Fortinos management team is planning to open one new store a year for the next five years, which will create advancement opportunities for people within the organization. The introduction of the Pane Fresco brand has also elevated Fortinos’ home-meal replacement program to a whole new level. Pane Fresco, unveiled fully at the new Burlington location, will be rolled out over time at most existing Fortinos stores. The brand is backed by a star-studded cast of talented chefs and bakers whose expertise will transform the way people think about prepared foods in a supermarket, predicts Pane Fresco General Manager Paul Spagnuolo. “The idea is to provide great food quickly. How do you do that with multiple locations? You have to hire chefs, and train your team to produce consistency from store to store. We felt the only way to accomplish this task was to design and build a commissary that would allow us to get the consistency of great quality, with store-level finishing

“It’s our expectation that we will open one new store a year for the next five years, which will create advancement opportunities for people within our organization. The introduction of the Pane Fresco brand will elevate our home-meal replacement program to a whole new level.”

that can be replicated easily. “We have a team of very talented people, who have put together a state-of-the-art facility that can produce foods that you would expect from a high-end restaurant. There are items you can eat in the store, as well as cooked items you simply heat at home for great food fast.” Look for delicacies like stuffed peppers and eggplants, grilled salmon, crab cakes and home-style meatballs. The new Pane Fresco Carvery offers up a range of meal items unparalleled in the supermarket industry, Paul adds. “One of our Italian specialties is a slowroasted whole porchetta. It’s a great comfort food, but it took us a year of trial and error to perfect it.” The Pane Fresco commissary, located at the Fortinos Rymal Road head office, began producing products for customer consumption in October 2011 to rave reviews. The commissary includes a full banquetstyle kitchen with a planned workflow that allows foods to be cooled quickly before being packaged for shipping to the stores. “The kitchen is designed for high-volume production without sacrificing quality or freshness,” explains Paul. “Our recipes are all traditional, and they all had to pass the taste test of our team here before getting approval to go into the stores. Customers


Specially formulated artisan breads are mixed in large batches that can be shaped and baked by Fortinos own in-store bakers daily.

The Pane Fresco kitchen, under the command of Chef Steve Rooney, is a state-of-the-art facility designed for high-volume production with a focus on quality and freshness.


Commissary Chef Steve Rooney.

The Pane Fresco management team is pictured in front of the PF Carvery at the new Appleby Line store in Burlington. From left: Marguerite Banyard, Rotisserie Manager; Jessica DeArcangelis, CafĂŠ Manager; Nathan Silveira, Pizza and Bread Manager; Frank Scornaienchi, Franchise Owner; Romeo Andreatti, Carvery Manager; Becky Evans, Assistant Store Manager Pane Fresco; and Sue Guarascia, Soup, Sandwich, Grill & Chill Manager.

Fortinos stores are being updated with a new counter featuring heat-and-eat items that include grilled salmon, grilled chicken breasts, crab cakes, stuffed peppers, stuffed eggplant and more. FORTINOS FUTURE 83

Home-style meatballs are among the ‘heat-and-eat’ items featured in the Pane Fresco home-meal replacement program. A specialized machine from Italy is used to loosely form the meatballs that are finished by hand, before going in to the oven.

love it – that’s not surprising, we are producing very high quality items.” Chef Steve Rooney, who runs the Pane Fresco kitchen, started his career in the famous Ritz Carlton after training at the New England Culinary Institute. He also co-starred in a Food Network Series in 1999 and 2000, called Mario Eats Italy, with famous chef Mario Batalli in which he and Mario traveled through regions of Italy showcasing different foods and cooking techniques. Chef Steve opened as Executive Chef at Cucci Ristorante in Oakville before joining the Fortinos Pane Fresco team. He is supported by Sous Chef Luca Rosa, adds Paul. “Chef Luca is a local boy who was inspired to cook by his Nonna, who to this day makes her own homemade pasta and sauces from scatch with love. Luca worked in famous Toronto restaurants like Centro owned by Franco Prevedello and Prego Della Piazza another landmark restaurant.” The Pane Fresco brand is the brainchild of Marc Albanese, Director, Product Development. Marc, his wife Felicia and his parents Ross and Cathy developed the line of Pane Fresco breads during their 28 years of running their family business. Marc says the bakery side is producing artisanal bread doughs that are shipped to the stores chilled, ready to be baked in special ovens. “This concept takes our breads to a level never before seen in a


supermarket. We are producing true artisanal breads using traditional pre-ferments that make breads that are fresher and feature richer flavours,” says Marc, who learned the art of bread-making under the tutelage of San Francisco master baker Didier Rosada. His team includes Bakery Manager Wendy Coles, who started her career as chef working under the highly acclaimed Chef Mark Piccone at Vineland Estates. Marc notes the bakery will be preparing up to 20 varieties of breads, including chocolate nutella, panettone and truffle mushroom porcini. “I am very happy that we are able to meet the volumes required to service up to 25 stores without compromising any of the quality that you expect from an artisanal bread. In addition to breads, the commissary is producing Pane Fresco’s famous biscotti, breadsticks, muffins and cookies. It is also producing the famous line of Fortinos pastas. With our renewed focus on fresh, Vince says Fortinos is developing and testing ideas on behalf of Loblaw Companies. “We are looked upon as something of a test lab, where innovation and new ideas can be developed and tested. The ideas that have real traction may be rolled out to other banners once we pave the way. It’s a very exciting time at Fortinos – we’ve been at crossroads like this before and exceeded all expectations. I’m confident we will do it again.”

From the Heart is intended to capture the

essence of Fortinos through our first 50 years. We have made great efforts to accurately capture this history through personal interviews, reviewing past archives and articles. We sincerely apologize if we have overlooked any individual, fact or story. We wish to thank all our employees, past and present, for their efforts in making Fortinos a true success story. The 5,000 people we employ today are with us building the memories of tomorrow. We hope you enjoy From the Heart, and encourage you to share it with family and friends.


50 years


Fortinos Booklet  

Fortinos Booklet

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