Article Written by Denise Davy
Ask Jenny Longo what it’s like to be part of a family-run business and she laughs. “I was born into it,” she says. “We have the third generation coming in (to the business) as well as in-laws. We’re a big family.” Big family may be an understatement when you’re talking about Longo’s. Jenny, Director of Private Brands, is one of 11 children born to the three founders of Longo’s, and all of them work at the company.
Jenny’s father, Joseph, and her two uncles, Gus and Tommy, started the chain in 1956 with a small grocery store in downtown Toronto. They opened the first full-sized Longo’s in 1972 on Plains Road in Burlington. From their base in Halton, Longo Brothers Fruit Markets has grown to include 26 grocery stores that stretch across the GTA, including five in Burlington and Oakville. They also own Grocery Gateway, an online grocery delivery service.
Despite the growth, the Longo’s story is still all about family. They’ve kept family values at the core of how they operate and extend that goodwill to the community. Longo’s shoppers know the chain for its fresh produce, fish, deli meats and baked goods. “We still hand pipe our cannoli right there in the bakery,” says Longo, proudly referring to her Sicilian heritage.
But many may not be aware of the priority they place on giving. Donations make up approximately three per cent of their pre-tax profits and are a part of their charitable giving and sponsorship program. The Longos Family Charitable Foundation was established in 1998 with a mission to support women’s and children’s charities. Their focus is on disease prevention and education for families, plus children’s and youth nutrition and food aid programs (such as Breakfast for Learning, Second Harvest, Re-Fresh Foods, Toonies for Tummies, Kerr Street Ministries and local food banks). One of their signature fundraising events is the annual “Fore Kids’ Sake” charity golf tournament, which has raised more than $2.3 million over the last 24 years for local hospitals, women’s charities and kids’ camps.
The family are also involved in events like the Inside Ride, Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer and Dragon Boat races. In the spring and fall they host food drives and bring together 150 volunteers to pack nearly 10,000 bags of food. Many of the teams of volunteers are regular staff who come in on their days off.
The family connection also extends to the many farmers who supply the store with their produce. Longo said because produce is one of the company’s cornerstones, they take pride in the long-term relationships they have with many local growers. Some of those relationships date back to 1956, and some farmers now grow crops exclusively for them. “We’ve been dealing with the grandfathers and fathers and now their children,” states Longo.
In addition to helping through their foundation, each store manager has the authority and budget to help where they feel it’s needed. The hardest part, says Longo, is trying to decide which groups to support, adding that family members meet regularly to go through all the requests. “It’s hard to choose because you want to make an impact. We always go over budget,” she admits.
But it’s not just about writing a cheque. “We try and form a team and get involved in these events. We want to look at ways we can get personally involved. With the government being stretched more and more, we feel we have to come together and make sure the needs are met,” notes Longo. “We’re so fortunate and we live in such a great community so it’s great to be able to give back.”