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Tony’s Fresh Market Is IFRA’s 2015 Industry Retailer Award Recipient

Tony Ingraffia and Domenico Gambino cut the cake to celebrate a store opening in May last year at 5233 North Lincoln Avenue in a former Dominick’s store. Tony Ingraffia said that since Dominick’s decided to exit the market, “every company in America wants to be in Chicago.”
Tony Ingraffia and Domenico Gambino cut the cake to celebrate a store opening in May last year at 5233 North Lincoln Avenue in a former Dominick’s store. Tony Ingraffia said that since Dominick’s decided to exit the market, “every company in America wants to be in Chicago.”

Last updated on June 14th, 2024 at 10:07 am

Tony’s Fresh Market is the Illinois Food Retailers Association (IFRA) 2015 Industry Retailer Award recipient. The company was honored during the IFRA-Grocery Merchandisers Association (GMA) Annual Conference and Expo, which was held earlier this month at the Drury Lane Conference Center in Oakbrook Terrace.

“The IFRA board of directors unanimously chose Tony’s Fresh Market as recipient of the prestigious 2015 Illinois Retailer Award in this, our 90th anniversary year,” said IFRA President Brian Jordan. “It is through the support and commitment of wonderful retailers like Tony Ingraffia and Domenico Gambino—who give so much to the industry and the communities in which they serve—that we are able to celebrate this milestone year. We are so very appreciative for their acceptance of this recognition and the extraordinary support we have received from their staff at the corporate office. We all wish the Tony’s Fresh Market family much success in the years ahead.”

A teenager buys the store

An exterior shot of the Lincoln Avenue Tony’s Fresh Market in Chicago.
An exterior shot of the Lincoln Avenue Tony’s Fresh Market in Chicago.

Tony Ingraffia had just turned 19 when he decided to open his own grocery store in 1979 with his uncle, Domenico Gambino, as his partner. The 3607 West Fullerton Avenue location was the same store where Ingraffia had worked for years. The opportunity to purchase the store came after learning the owners wanted to sell.

“When I told my parents, they were a little nervous,” Ingraffia said. “They wanted me to go to school, and I wanted to start making money and go out on my own.”

Ingraffia decided to go ahead with the new venture, Tony’s Finer Foods, and he and Gambino opened with five employees. Their 9,000-s.f. building was located on Fullerton Avenue in Chicago.

tonys-logoIn 1990, their first—and only store at the time—was devastated by fire, and they were out of business for 10 months. It was unclear whether the business would continue. The partners stayed focused on their goal and eventually built a new 16,000-s.f. store.

Once business became stable again, they turned their attention to expanding. Today, the company operates 12 stores throughout the Chicago area, as well as a 140,000 s.f. warehouse and corporate headquarters in Itasca.

And they have no intention of stopping there.

The Ingraffia and Gambino families with associates cut the ribbon on a new Tony’s Fresh Market in Countryside last fall.
The Ingraffia and Gambino families with associates cut the ribbon on a new Tony’s Fresh Market in Countryside last fall.

“We foresee a rapid growth of the company in the near future,” Ingraffia said.

That growth includes a new location in Schaumburg. Tony’s Finer Foods has purchased the Town Square of Schaumburg, a 96,000-s.f. retail center that once housed a Dominick’s. A new Tony’s Fresh Market is expected to open there in early to mid-2016.

Keys to success

Tony’s credits loyal, longtime employees, some who have been with the company since its early days, as a key to its success.

“It is very much a company where you can start from an entry-level position and work your way up to key management roles,” Ingraffia said.

Numerous members of the Ingraffia and Gambino families work in the business, including children, sons-in-law, siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins. Ingraffia said that family involvement also has been a factor in the business’ success.

With his 36-plus years in the grocery business, Ingraffia knows that it presents a different challenge every day.

“You open the door in the morning, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next: a sudden rush of customers, employees not showing up for work, an accident—there’s always something going on,” he said.

There will continue to be challenges, not the least of which is competition. Ingraffia said that it seems that “every company in America wants to be in Chicago.”

“To stay ahead of the competition, we must continue to strive to keep our stores modern and up-to-date with more prepared food and more perishables,” Ingraffia said. “That’s the wave of the future.”

It is perishables and Tony’s international foods department that separate it from the rest of the industry, IFRA said.

Ingraffia believes his stores offer something different from the big chains, especially when it comes to variety.

“We want to cater to all ethnic groups in the communities that we serve,” he said. “We understand that Chicago is a melting pot of different cultures, and our stores offer items that make continuing cultural food traditions possible.”

Strong supporters of IFRA, community

In the early days of their business, Ingraffia and Gambino recognized the importance of joining a professional association to help them grow the company.

“Whether it’s changes in the law, new ordinances or even coupon redemption, as a small independent starting out we needed an association to support us as we grew,” Ingraffia said. “Today we still use IFRA as much as possible.”

Tony’s once used Certified Grocers as its wholesaler. When that business closed, it changed to Central Grocers, where today Ingraffia is a board member.

“We need our co-op for our buying power,” he said. “All of the groceries that we purchase from them are priced right to compete with the chains.”

“We really appreciate Tony’s involvement as a member of our board and executive committee,” said Ken Nemeth, president and CEO of Central Grocers. “Tony and Domenico were really instrumental in the smooth transition of Certified Grocers’ members into the Central Grocers family.”

Community involvement is important to both Ingraffia and Gambino. Each year, the business holds a charity golf outing and donates the proceeds to area nonprofit organizations.

“We just had our biggest and most successful event,” Ingraffia said. “This year, Bear Necessities Pediatric Cancer Foundation was one of our beneficiaries.”

In addition, Gambino is very involved in keeping the Italian heritage alive, Ingraffia said. Gambino recently was honored by the Mola Foundation of Chicago and is actively involved with the Joint Civic Committee of Italian-Americans.

Tony’s own brand products include Italian-style cheeses, peppers, pastas, oils and more, and many are imported from Italy.

•••

IFRA Celebrates 90th Year With New Logo, Tagline

To celebrate its 90th year, the Illinois Food Retailers Association (IFRA) debuted an anniversary logo and complementary tagline: Connect. Learn. Advance.

Brian Jordan
Brian Jordan

“These three words epitomize what’s at the heart of our association,” said IFRA’s Jordan. “We’re a conduit for building new relationships and strengthening existing ones. We offer training and educational programs. And we represent the industry regarding legislative issues. Everything we do has the goal of empowering our members to advance their businesses.”

The 90-year emblem complements, but does not replace, the IFRA logo—allowing for the use of the new slogan and existing logo together after the anniversary passes. Combined, the look is fresh and contemporary yet retains the recognition established with membership.

IFRA retained Stevens & Tate, a Chicago advertising and marketing agency, to create a logo and slogan that not only represents the association’s history and mission but also to attract new members and encourage current members to participate in programs and events.

“We believe in the power of a brand, not just at the retail level but also for associations such as IFRA,” said Stevens & Tate President Dan Gartlan. “The current logo has represented IFRA for many years; however, it now needs to be presented in a modern way.”

ILL IFRA_90thLogoWith all the choices people have for food purchases, it is important that independent retailers have an association they can count on, Jordan said. IFRA is as relevant today as it was nearly a century ago. And its image needs to reflect that.

“We have worked with Stevens & Tate on past projects, and we turned to the agency again for our 90th anniversary because we trust their abilities,” said Jordan. “The team not only has a solid understanding of the grocery and retail industries, but brings knowledge from multiple disciplines to identify what our brand is and where it needs to go.”

Founded in 1925, IFRA is a nonprofit trade association dedicated to the profitability and growth of locally owned and owner-operated retail food stores and the suppliers that serve them. The organization strives to strengthen links to the food industry while providing members with essential and timely information about general interest topics and legislative issues. Some of the benefits the association provides its members are government and labor relations; educational courses, certifications and scholarships; group insurance; energy-savings plans; and coupon, credit card processing and data security programs.

*Editor’s note: This Illinois Market Profile also appears in the November 2015 print edition of The Shelby Report of the Midwest. Find photos from the IFRA-GMA conference here.

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Shelby Team

The Shelby Report delivers complete grocery news and supermarket insights nationwide through the distribution of five monthly regional print and digital editions. Serving the retail food trade since 1967, The Shelby Report is “Region Wise. Nationwide.”

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