Candian businesses key to Italian Centre Shop's success
Celebrating Canada's 150th Birthday during 2017 with heartwarming stories from our family of suppliers who chose to make Canada home.
By Shelley Boettcher
Genuine Italian pasta. Chocolate Easter eggs. The best artichokes and coffee and tomatoes, too.
Behind some of the Italian Centre Shop's
Like so many good things in life, Gigi Importing started with a fine cup of coffee. Kimbo coffee, to be precise — the first product Gigi founder Tarcisio Vanacore imported to Canada from Italy.
Today it's one of Gigi’s top sellers. Partly because the Italian Centre Shop has sold more Kimbo coffee than any other Canadian outlet for the last three years in a row. Stop and try a cup, next time you’re in the cafe.
|Ten-year-old Gigi (Tarcisio) in his Papa's store in Italy|
Born and raised in Vico Equense, a small town near Naples, Italy, Tarcisio learned the food business from his parents and grandparents, who owned a grocery store. But Tarisco—his nickname is Gigi—fell in love with a Canadian woman and moved to Toronto.
He didn’t forget his roots, however, and a few years after immigrating began his own company. He started small, in a 2000-square-foot garage, but he had big dreams. And when his son, Flavio Vanacore, was only 13 years old, he began working for his dad. “You name it, I’d do it,” Flavio says with a laugh.
A few years later, Flavio’s sister, Mena, also joined the business; she now handles administration and product development.
Their hard work has paid off. That storage space has expanded from that modest garage to a 35,000-square-foot warehouse. Flavio is now Vice President of Sales. And the list of products is considerably longer than just coffee. Kimbo is still very important, of course, as well as brands such as Chin8 Neri Italian soda, Mantova oils and spreads, Pantanella
The Gigi-branded private label
“We’re really focused on growing our brand,” says Flavio, “We have a lot of leading Italian brands and we’re always looking to add more.”
| Flavio's father,
The roots of Excelsior Foods go back to
The Violante Grocery Store was a big hit but, by 1965, Giovanni knew he wanted to do something different. He sold the store to some of his employees and started a wholesale business. It quickly grew to include a coffee-roasting business, a cheese company, even a biscuit company.
Eventually, the business became so large that Giovanni decided to split it up, so each of his children could have their own projects to work on. Excelsior Foods was born.
These days, Vito Violante, Giovanni’s son, is the CEO. And in 2004, Vito’s son, Daniel, joined the business, ensuring the family’s company will continue.
Vito says that one of the most popular products that Excelsior imports
Arborio rice, Albero Vecchio olive oils, Clemente organic olive oils, Agostino Recca anchovies and sardines, coffee, bitters and balsamic vinegars are also popular.
And Excelsior Foods is the only Canadian company still making Italian-style chocolate Easter eggs—the kind that includes a gift, a toy car, perhaps, or a soccer ball. “Our heritage is Italian,” says Vito. “And that’s what we want to introduce to Canadians.”
|Vito, proudly holding an Italian-style Easter Egg|
Ask Tania Gallina how long she’s been at her family’s company and she laughs. “Technically from birth, I guess,” she says with a laugh. “I spent a lot of time here growing up, evenings and weekends.”
Officially, however, she started working at
That store grew and grew into
Founder Guido passed away seven years ago, but Tania, her
Tania’s two children are only five and eight years old, too young to decide what they’ll do when they grow up. But just like when Tania was small, they’re already spending plenty of time at the family business.
And with brands as good as
Sourcing great products like these is Tania's benchmark. “If I’m not going to use it at home, I’m not going to import it,” she smiles.