The Legacy and Cultural Significance of Italian Grocers

Salvatore Restivo (far left) ran a banana business in Toronto (circa 1906) (photo courtesy of Joan Lo Presti).

Although it was a long time ago, the memories I have are still vivid – walking as a boy at my father’s side on cool summer mornings, before the sun was up, at the Ontario Food Terminal in Toronto, visiting the farmers’ stalls one after another, looking for the most succulent black cherries, the juiciest red haven peaches from the Niagara peninsula, the reddest radishes, and the crispest romaine lettuce from the Holland Marsh. The air was charged with the sounds of farmers eager to sell their truckloads of produce, and merchants haggling over prices, or moaning about the shortage of good wax beans today. Later, the smell of those fresh fruits and vegetables would fill our small corner store, where customers knew they would find the freshest produce around, and I learned the value of hard work, fair play, and enjoying the pleasures of being part of a community. I didn’t know it then, but I was witnessing the history of Italian immigrants’ knowledge of produce and their passion for good food being passed down through generations.

It’s a legacy that still exists in the produce aisles of some of Canada’s largest grocery chains. A few years ago, in a casual conversation with poet and journalist Frank Giorno, I lamented that Italian corner grocery stores like ours, that used to be ubiquitous in Toronto, now seemed far harder to find. They had gradually disappeared, replaced by convenience stores or converted into swanky restaurants. Frank remembered those stores all along St. Clair Avenue very well, and had even photographed many of them for his personal archive. That conversation prompted us to conduct research on this subject, which we later presented together at a conference. Our findings held some unexpected surprises and led to some remarkable insights.

I would even say that the common experience we have of grocery shopping today, and the very roots of the entire grocery landscape, can be traced back directly to the hard-working and enterprising Italian fruit pedlars who came to Canada at the end of the 19th century. Though it may seem a bold claim, the evidence is quite compelling. I present three categories of evidence to make the case: historical data; personal experience; analysis of three distinct contemporary examples. (Now, if you’re already feeling a bit peckish, go and get some nice cannoli. Then, read on.)

I ask three questions to frame my investigation. First, what is the history of Italians in the grocery business in Ontario? Second, what does the grocery business look like today? Third, what is the connection between these two?

What is the legacy of Italian grocers in Ontario? I think that legacy is enormous! Italian grocers have had a huge impact in shaping the current grocery experience and landscape for two essential reasons: their expert knowledge of fruit and produce (professional expertise), and their integrity and personal character. This second quality, integrity, has had an impact within the grocery business and far beyond it.

The Legacy, Part I: A Brief History of Italian Grocers
In 1988, John Zucchi published Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity (1875-1935). That book is remarkable in many ways, not least for the close analysis of how Italian fruiterers and greengrocers, especially those from the small Sicilian town of Termini Imerese, came to dominate the grocery trade in Toronto at the beginning of the 20th century. Zucchi’s research paints a vivid picture of how Italian emigrants over this period made their way to Ontario and settled into various walks of life in what must have seemed a strange new land – early Canada. He notes that between 1895-1915, 16 million Italians left Italy for other shores. The reasons for that mass exodus were many and varied: lack of industrial infrastructure in Italy to provide employment; high taxes; the attraction of steady work for handsome wages abroad; political reasons – like avoiding military service; and sometimes personal reasons, like escaping from a love affair gone wrong (22).

Fruit vendors figure quite prominently in Zucchi’s analysis. He places the first fruit vendor in Toronto in 1860, one of just 17 Italians, including several bakers, musicians, and one bird-cage maker. By the 1880s, he notes, fruit pedlars “met at the crack of dawn as they loaded their carts in the market railyards on the Esplanade.” A report in 1907, filed by visiting Italian priest Father Pietro Pisani, remarked that: “Almost all the fruit and vegetable trade is exercised by Italians, mostly from Termini Imerese and Valledolmo. They have pretty shops on the busiest streets. . . where often they end up in groups, almost one on top of the other” (71). Zucchi’s detailed analysis confirms the prevalence of Italian grocers in Toronto at this time, and the high percentage of grocers from Termini Imerese, Sicily, in particular; he reports: “Before the Second World War, the city’s Italians dominated the retail fruit trade” (87). Indeed, the statistics illustrate the point (92):

Source: J. Zucchi, Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity (1875-1935))

A report in The Telegram in 1888 noted that these Italian fruit merchants had “tripled fruit imports from the USA within a few years” and had “taught the public to acquire a taste for certain fruits previously unknown to them, such as bananas, peaches, etc” (87). Writing in 1914, W. G. Smith called the Italian “a master in the ‘green-grocery’ and fruit trades ‘to which he brought ingenuity, deftness, industry, and business sagacity that are most praiseworthy’” (73). Zucchi suggests several reasons for the success of Italians in the fruit trade, in particular the Termitani, who, he notes, dominated the fruit trade in the 1920s and were among the most remarkable hometown groups. According to Zucchi, two main factors explain why the Termitani were the dominant sub-group: “the co-operative spirit” within this townsgroup, and the experience the fruiterers brought to the trade, including (often) prior experience as market gardeners (88). He also notes that the Termitani enjoyed the highest credit ratings because of their “sense of mutual obligation and co-operation” (92).

The Restivo family fruit store, circa 1920. (Photo courtesy of Joan Lo Presti.)

A complex system was in place: greenhorns worked as street labourers, pedlars, or in stores, until they acquired the capital and experience needed to operate their own shops. The protocol for opening a store also took into account complex issues of marriage and inheritance, what Zucchi calls “ascriptive obligations and an ethos” (93). His description of the dynamics at play offers insight into my own family history; in fact, he cites my paternal grandparents as an example of how a family business could be passed even across gender lines. In 1911, my grandfather, Giuseppe Zuccaro, married Ignazia Franze, the daughter of Cosimo Franze, who had no sons. Three years later, in 1914, the young son-in-law had apparently proven himself sufficiently savvy and the store was passed to him, allowing Cosimo to “perpetuate his family heritage” (94).

So, my father was born into a family that operated a fruit store, as was I. He learned the trade at his father’s side, as I did. And that experience has shaped me in many ways. Zucchi writes: “Establishing a fruit store was not simply an exercise in free enterprise. The fruit store was considered a property to be preserved, perpetuated, passed on to succeeding generations” (97). In our case, this tradition of passing on a family business was not sustained in my generation as it was in preceding ones. I am one of five siblings in my family and none of us has remained involved in the fruit business. But that is not to suggest that we were not deeply affected by that experience. On the contrary, the lessons I learned working in the family fruit store in my youth shaped my character in important ways and continue to serve me well.

The Legacy, Part II: Lessons Learned in the Family Grocery Store
Zucchi’s point, that in running a family fruit store you were building something to pass on, is one that resonates for me. In my experience, that something was less tangible than the bricks and mortar of the corner property (at 22 Vaughan Rd) but perhaps even more valuable: you were building your net worth and your legacy, not just the value of your business but, more importantly, your good name; your reputation and your honour. Whether you opted to remain in the fruit business or not, those things loom large. (In the end, perhaps they mean the most.) Here are a few things that I observed and learned growing up in my father’s fruit store: Being in business for yourself was in some ways quite simple, and in other ways enormously complex. It was complicated in that a young Italian grocer had to have the smarts for the fruit/produce and later the grocery side of things, and develop the business acumen needed to run a successful small business – from managing accounting and payroll to inventory, marketing, and customer relations. Many, if not most, of these shopkeepers had little formal education, so this was no small feat. The simple part, at least in my father’s case, was the work ethic part: it was as simple as ABC: A = Work Hard; B = Play Fair; C = Enjoy the ride!

A: Work hard! You needed stamina and diligence to survive in this business. The days were long and began early, around 5 am, when the farmers’ market was operating (beside the wholesalers at the Ontario Food Terminal). My father and I witnessed the sun rise on many mornings there. B: Play fair. If you made your living as a merchant you learned that honesty and integrity meant everything. You were a buyer and a seller; you handled both sides of the coin. If you made a deal (say, to buy 50 baskets of Walter Ivanchuk’s Red Haven peaches next Wednesday morning), it was deal; you owned them; they would be at the market waiting for you; you loaded them up, and paid cash. It was all about your word. On the flip side, if you hoped to stay in business you had to retain customers, so they had better like what you’re selling them or they won’t be back, it’s just that simple. You were honest, fair and courteous; you were “in service,” in a very real way. You were selling fine, fresh produce to people who looked forward to enjoying it. It was hard work, but at its best it was a great pleasure too. You took pride in what you did, and in the fruit you sold. So, C: Enjoy the ride! Life is short, so try to enjoy each day – including your work. My father died at age 59, but I don’t know anyone who took such pleasure in what he did every day for a living. Although we all say: “He worked himself to death,” and it may be true, he also loved his work and took great pride in how our store looked and operated. He poured himself into life – including his work day, full bore. His life and his work produced may wonderful friendships, in addition to modest success in business. That seems a worthwhile legacy.

And this is not just my perception; it was shared by many. One example will illustrate the point: one of our regular customers was a distinguished gentleman named John Reeves. He lived nearby, in Wychwood Park. By day he worked as a producer at the CBC, but he was, and remains at age 93, a true Renaissance man: he has published a series of detective novels, he completed the Boston Marathon, he is an accomplished composer of music, and more….an amazing man. Recently, John contacted our family to inform us that he had included a tribute to my father in his soon to be published next work (The Alphabeticon), about Toronto and multiculturalism, and people whose lives have made the world a better place. His friendship with my father began with the purchase of fruit and developed into a relationship of deep personal interest. His comments make reference to the two key concepts I identified earlier: knowledge of produce, and personal integrity. John recently wrote: “…over the years, I have very often thought of you and your family, with gratitude for time spent together. Back then, we used to chat about many things; and I was always interested in Charlie’s personality, his career and his accomplishments.” Reeves describes how my father “became expert in all matters fruitive or vegetal” (4). He notes many loyal customers returned to shop at our store even after they moved away, “because he had the best fruit and vegetables in town.” At a time when the more “exotic” fruits were not widely known or available, Reeves used to come to Zucchero’s for papaya, mangoes, kiwi, canary melons, and other rare fruits, and make smoothies to fuel his training for marathon runs. In typical fashion, Reeves suggests: “Despite his local fame…Charlie never got a swelled head. Indeed he was a deeply humble man.”

Zucchero’s fruit store at 22 Vaughan Rd, Toronto, circa 1950 (family photo). (Left to right: Giuseppe, Ignazia, and Charlie)

Reeves points out that he and my father had “totally different backgrounds”: he was educated at Cambridge; my father joined the army and went to war after high school and never undertook further education when he returned from overseas. Yet, they became good friends and on occasion shared sumptuous dinners in each other’s homes. “Somehow,” Reeves notes, “our lives, his family’s and mine, found a common footing that made surface differences unimportant” (6). His comment reveals another small but important point: engagement in the grocery business put Italians in contact with “others” in a big way. Italians learned about the world, and the world learned about Italians. Reeves’ account is a testimony to how ethnic and class differences can be eclipsed by genuine human interest and interaction, to mutual benefit. Reeves concurs that “brutal toil and monstrous hours six days a week took their toll.’’ When my father died, he attended the funeral service, along with many other “former customers who valued Charlie for who he intrinsically was…someone who knew how to love, how to give, how to share, and nothing can be more important than that” (6). I appreciate his kind words and warm tribute. John’s account eloquently conveys a vital lesson I learned growing up in my father’s fruit store: there is a value system at the centre of everything you do. It is expressed most directly in how you interact with others; in your working relationships with co-workers, with customers, with everyone.


Zucchero’s fruit store as I remember it, circa 1975 (family photo, pictured is Philip Zucchero)

Another thing about the corner Italian grocery store that I appreciate more now than I did at the time is that you operated as part of a local community. You had to get to know your neighbours, and learn to live with others who were different. Our store was in a very multicultural neighbourhood. Our immediate neighbours were two German caterers (Hans and Claus – who were also customers). Then, there was the West Indian barbershop. Next, the Swiss jeweller. In between was the door to the Bennets’ second floor apartment; they were Scots. Across the road was the Chinese laundry; next door an English butcher. And on it went, like our very own League of Nations! To survive as a shopkeeper you had to integrate deeply (get to know your neighbours), and broadly – operate outside your ethnic group. As Zucchi points out, Sicilians from Termini were an exceptionally insular group (47, 60). And yet, they dispersed in working the fruit trade across the city, even pushing its outer limits as loosely connected paesani extended their web of grocery stores (58). That trend has continued to the present day.

The Legacy, PART III: Italian Heritage and the Grocery Store Landscape Today – From Merchants to Moguls
If the local grocery store was a beacon of multiculturalism back then (in the 1960s and ’70s), how much more so now! What does the present grocery and produce landscape look like in 2019, and how does it reflect the legacy of earlier Italian fruiterers? Consider three examples that address this question, each representing a different model: Pusateri’s; the Longo’s grocery chain; and Michael’s No Frills in Scarborough. Pusateri’s is perhaps the best example of the high end, exclusive (and very expensive!) current version of the Italian grocery store. The Pusateri’s arrived in Canada, from Sicily, in 1957. The company web site conveys a sense of their Italian roots and the clientele they target. Under the “our story” tab, they note: “Raising the bar since 1963: Authentic butchers and the city’s finest prepared fare. Peerless, personal service and the most diverse collection of gourmet, artisanal and imported products. For more than 50 years, we’ve set the standard for what it means to live, and eat, well in Toronto. We take great pride in travelling the world to find and share the rare and unique products we find with our customers. This is who we are. This is our family tradition.”

Screenshot from Pusateri’s web site, 10/10/2017 (

The brief synopsis of the development of Pusateri’s includes references to Cosimo Pusateri, the “busy, forever-smiling, 12-year-old boy who would serve shoppers, unload produce and maintain the shop” in his father’s store in 1963. The importance of service, friendship and personal relations is underscored: “It’s not often that customers become friends, but that’s just how Cosimo operated. Like the people coming into the shop, Cosimo cared most about quality: quality food, quality living, a quality life. Cosimo believed that food brought people together, it was an expression of life.” Pusateri’s celebrates its role in introducing fine, exotic fare to Toronto’s toniest shoppers: “Cosimo’s vision for Pusateri’s went deeper than produce and being the best neighbourhood grocer. In 1986, under his leadership, that small, Italian neighbourhood shop [was transformed] into a fine-food emporium, specializing in gourmet imported goods, speciality products and fine foods. Along the way, Pusateri’s helped introduce Toronto to many delicacies, including Waygu beef, Godiva chocolate, Spanish Iberico ham, [and] caviar from the Caspian Sea.”

Those who shop at Pusateri’s likely expect to leave with extraordinary food items (and a considerably lighter wallet). But the point about introducing exotic new foods to Torontonians is important because it echoes comments from Zucchi’s analysis of 100 years prior, and my own experience of 50 years ago. The tradition and the legacy live on. Today, we can still find exotic, new fruits and vegetables displayed in most grocery stores, large and small. These items are another graphic reminder of the lasting impact of Italian grocers’ past.

Longo’s grocery chain illustrates another business model, but underscores the same key elements for success; namely, excellent fresh produce and the importance of building your business based on a reputation for integrity and service. Tommy Longo was born in Termini Imerese, (Sicily) in 1934; he emigrated to Canada in 1950. In 1956 he and his brother Joe opened their first grocery store on Yonge Street in Toronto. At the time of Tommy’s death in 2011, the Longo’s grocery enterprise had developed into a major player in the industry with 23 large stores in the Greater Toronto Area, employing more than 4,200 people. In 2017, the roster of store locations listed 32 stores across southwestern Ontario. The growth continues.


Distribution of Longo’s grocery stores across Southwestern Ontario in September, 2017.

In an obituary in the Globe and Mail in March, 2011, Michael Posner wrote: “According to those who knew him best, however, what set Tommy Innocenzo Longo apart was not his considerable business achievements, but his character – his wisdom, leadership skills, work ethic and generosity” (S12). Still, those qualities likely also contributed largely to his success in business.2

Tommy’s son Anthony said: “For my father, being in the food business was not work. It was fun. He made it fun. Right to the end, he was visiting stores, saying hello to employees and customers… He had a very clear understanding of the difference between right and wrong, and he was clear about the importance of helping your community, your family, your friends.” The Longo’s food chain has established a foundation to manage support for community outreach initiatives. Chairwoman Roseanne Longo stated, “Tommy set the bar high with his example of a strong work ethic and living our values of honesty and mutual respect. He made everybody feel special.” Longo’s lawyer and friend of 43 years, Charles Schwartz, also held him in high esteem: “I was an articling student when I met him and he mentored me. I watched how he handled people. He never imposed decisions, but searched for consensus… I think he could have been anything. He led in a most unassuming way, so much so that you never knew he was leading, but he was.”

Cosimo Pusateri, Tommy Longo, and my father, Charlie Zucchero were singular individuals; but they are also representative of a large group of hard working sons of Italian immigrant fruit pedlars whose keen knowledge, work ethic, and integrity inspired the work of countless others who saw the example they set and followed it. Michael Lo Presti is one of those people.


Michael Lo Presti, Manager and franchise owner of “No Frills” Superstore, 681 Silver Star Blvd, Scarborough, Ontario (photo: J. Z.) The store covers 55,000 square feet.

Michael is the manager and franchise owner of a large “No Frills” Superstore located in Scarborough, in Toronto’s east end. I contacted him to enquire about the legacy of early 20th century Italian grocers in Ontario. (Full disclosure: Michael is a first cousin, so we talk about the grocery business whenever we see each other, but, sadly, that is all too infrequently.) When I told him I was writing about this subject, he immediately insisted: “Come and visit my store!” Who could resist? I e-mailed him a few questions and we arranged a date for a rendez-vous. What I saw there struck me deeply. Paradoxically, it seemed both familiar and strangely different. The dazzling displays of produce caused instant flashbacks, but the scale of his operation and the range of items on offer were quite another matter.

I had put three questions to Micheal before I visited his store. His responses were very informative; mostly, they further emphasize the key points I have been making – that expert knowledge of produce and personal integrity are the two essentials. Three broad observations struck me when he led me through his store and explained how things work there. First, the items in stock (both fresh produce and grocery) clearly reflect the ethnic mix of his shoppers. Second, there are some tensions between business interests of the franchise owner/manager and headquarters. Third, Michael knows and loves this business and is admired by both co-workers and customers alike.

I asked: How does the current landscape in the grocery business reflect trends in diversity and multiculturalism? What portion of your business now is accounted for with “ethnic” foods? (Can we even still talk about “ethnic foods”? Has it all become mainstream?) He replied: “Hugely, in the urban areas. There is a big push in urban stores to reduce ‘overskued categories’ (such as breakfast cereal, etc.) and to use that space to provide ethnic items that are particular to that area. Where my area may be Asian, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean, another area in an urban environment could be Middle Eastern, Kosher and Latin American. When you talk about ‘ethnic foods,’ let’s break it down to some of the departments. In produce 20 years ago we would say rapini, anise, radicchio, portobello mushrooms, roma tomatoes, eggplant, Italian eggplant, avocados, asparagus, yellow plums, prune plums, coconuts, endive and escarole, leeks, Italian parsley, red shepherd peppers, zucchini, bok choy, Taiwanese cabbage, to name a bunch, [it] would be considered ethnic. Today none of them are.”

What I saw was this: there are now multiple varieties of bananas (manzano, moco, cooking, plantain, un-gassed green bananas); yams (yellow, white, purple); mangos (sweet, julie, spice, ataulfo, green, from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean…) – and each ethnic group thinks their mangos are the best and sweetest! Also, there are many items that simply were not in stores long ago; items like: yampy, granadilla, naseberry, etc. Some of these are ordered through conventional methods; others are locally sourced (i.e. store owners are able to purchase from “unauthorized” sources – independent suppliers).

Michael notes that, “the old ‘ethnic’ is now mainstream… The Italian items are all on the ‘main desk’ and are just items. The head office team has no responsibility to that ethnic group, as Italian is no longer considered ethnic.” Whereas once getting any Italian items was a challenge, now the goal was getting more authentic Italian items, or higher quality ones. He explained: “Stores in Italian areas push for more ‘authentic Italian items’: a wider selection of olive oils, pastas, jarred vegetables, tomatoes, tomato purees and sauces, and it is an uphill battle to get them. This occurs because the main desk does not see it as a need because they believe they have it covered off with the standard Unicos, Italpasta, Primo, etc. Now, there is a big push back for Italian and an understanding from the Italian stores and the ethnic committee to fight for getting the Italian stores taken care of. These owners see the push to the new ethnic (Chinese, etc.) and say that they can’t sell that type of product and it comes at the expense of not promoting or pushing Italian products. A good example would be the panettone category at Christmas time.”

I asked: has the tradition of Italian grocery stores had an influence on what we experience today? If so, how would you characterize it? What do you see now that might have begun with the introduction of Italian foods in traditional large grocery stores long ago? He replied: “I think traditional Italian stores have had an influence on today’s grocery stores, no doubt. First thing that comes to mind is in how we merchandise… The care and the nice piles and aggressive ways we try to sell, I think, comes back to the small store. My learning’s from working with my uncle at his store.” Also, “the ability to find new items from other countries such as Abatti pears from Italy, Kiwi from New Zealand and Italy. The joy of food pushed me to look for foodie-type items that I used to bring in unauthorized. I did not go to school to be back in the industry, but that is how it has happened and it seems that if it is in the blood, it is in the blood.” Michael added: “I think stores like Longo’s, Loblaws Market stores, some Sobey’s, Fortino’s, and Farm Boy, to name a few, really try to make shopping, especially in the fresh area (produce, meat, deli and bakery), a sensory overload that simply comes from the historic Italian stores and their olive carts, hanging prosciuttos and salamis, and of course outstanding produce, meat and deli. The passionate part of the shop, I think, comes right from the Italian stores of yesterday, and I know in our business we still have many with Italian heritage that run stores.”

Finally, I asked: do you think your Italian heritage has affected your career choice and the way you go about your work; if so, how? He replied: “I think the Italian heritage did and does have an impact on my professional practice. The biggest thing in a grocery store is most non-Italians are intimidated by the produce department and so if you know your way around produce, you do not get snowed by anyone! People understand that your expectations are high in the produce department. You work at making sure that department is perfect; then, the whole store comes together. I think some of the best owners out there are the ones who know what the produce department is all about. If you show me a bad produce department in a corporate environment, and even in the franchise environment, I can tell you that the manger/franchisee does not know produce, and that is the key.”

Not surprisingly, Michael also emphasized the importance of treating people with care and respect: “I treat my employees and peers the way I want to be treated. I think I have an emotional attachment to food and I find an emotional attachment to many of our regular customers. I think coming from a heritage of hugging, I feel strongly for good people. People don’t understand that we are entwined with our good customers’ lives, about their kids, grand-kids, divorces, sickness… and that you care. I am not sure if that is Italian, but I feel that being raised with Italian love and warmth and the enjoyment of Sunday afternoon dinner has made me a bit of a sap in that regard. I believe my Italian heritage has definitely shaped my life, and who I am, and how I relate to it all.”

Michael’s comments on the effect of his Italian heritage on his work ethic resonate with comments made by John Reeves. Part of his Alphabeticon reflects on the character of Italians, and the extraordinary contributions they have made to Canadian society. He writes: “Helpless to combat the twin behemoths of disorganized politics and organized crime, they [Italians] took refuge in solid family life, in a private asylum of mutual goodwill, at once humane and impervious to cultural assault. This, more than the heritage of great art and music, is the real glory of Italianism: that somehow, in a largely unjust world, people manage to be kindly and respectful to each other (2). Gradually, through involvement in the education system and marriages outside their group, there was partial assimilation, a gradual injection of Italian corpuscles into the national bloodstream – to the benefit of us all” (3).

The legacy of Italian grocers in Ontario is a wonderful example of the benefit that Reeves so rightly encourages us to recognize and celebrate. Current events and the political climate make such an exercise especially timely and vital. Difficult conversations around migration, immigration policies, the arrival of refugees, and the treatment of certain ethnic groups are in the news daily. Xenophobes try to fan the flames of intolerance and bigotry. So, we would do well to pause and consider the many benefits that new immigrants also provide as they integrate into new host communities. Their energy and ambition, their new ideas, and their new fruits, nourish us all. The rich history of Italian grocers, their contributions to the fabric of Canadian society over the past hundred and fifty years, and their lasting legacy remind us of this important fact. Let’s celebrate that: eat a peach!

Jim Zucchero is an Academic Counsellor at King’s University College at Western University (London, Canada). He earned his PhD in English at Western University and has published creative non-fiction and numerous essays on Italian-Canadian writers. He walks the dog, plays music, and cooks Italian food for fun.

Notes: I am very grateful to Kate Dubinski for her support and suggestions in revising this article.1 “Grocery Stories” is a non-fiction account of my experience growing up in a small family grocery store in central Toronto. It appears in Italian Canadians at Table: a Narrative Feast in Five Courses (2013), a collection that focuses on the importance of food and culinary traditions in the Italian Canadian community. 2 A hardcover book was published in 2006 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Longo’s in the grocery business. The book was created as a gift to their friends, family, co-workers, suppliers, and customers, all of whom have contributed to their considerable success. See: The Longo Way: how three brothers turned a single fruit and vegetable store into a chain of high quality food markets, built on family, fresh food and fair play. Robert Collins, Toronto: Tribute Books, 2006). 3 Two notes on commemoration and recognition: as I was preparing this paper I received notice that Toronto and East York City Council had passed a motion to name a local lane in honour of the Badali family, long time fruit merchants in Toronto who were particularly well liked and appreciated in their community. City Staff Report regarding the naming of the laneway; Councillor Matlow’s remarks can be viewed on YouTube at this link: And soon after this paper was given at Laurentian University, a conference took place at York University in Toronto, focusing on Italians in the food business: “Italian Foodways Worldwide: A Conference on the Dispersal of Italian Cuisine(s)”: October 19-22, 2017 (York University and Centennial College).” These are signs that the hard work and contributions of Italians to the food business in Canada are beginning to gain recognition.

Works cited: (1) Collins, Robert. The Longo Way: how three brothers turned a single fruit and vegetable store into a chain of high quality food markets, built on family, fresh food and fair play. Toronto: Tribute Books, 2006). (2) Gatto-White, Loretta, and Delia De Santis. Italian Canadians at Table: a Narrative Feast in Five Courses. Toronto: Guernica, 2013. (3) Longo’s, website: (4) Lo Presti, Michael, personal e-mails quoted by permission. (5) Posner, Michael. “Sons listened to dad, built a grocery empire” The Globe and Mail. 03/19/2011, S12. (6) Pusateri’s, website: (7) Reeves, John. Personal correspondence and draft Alphabeticon. (submitted to Algoma UP, 2018; quoted with author’s permission). (8) Zucchi, John. Italians in Toronto: Development of a National Identity, 1875-1935. Kingston: McGill- Queens UP, 1988.


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