Pusateri’s Gold Standards
It’s just another Friday afternoon at Pusateri’s Fine Food flagship store on Avenue Road: a palpable rush of shoppers, the sweet aroma of freshly baked pastries and a signature traffic guard navigating the parking lot outside. In fact, there’s nothing that would indicate that the upscale Toronto grocer has recently undergone the roughest week in 25 years until you follow a flight of stairs to corporate headquarters, and meet the fatigued faces that stand behind the thriving family run food chain.
“That day was devastating,” says president Frank Luchetta, sitting at a table surrounded by his sister Ida Pusateri, her children Rosanna and Sammy Pusateri and general manager John Mastroianni. The day he’s referring to is Oct. 20, 2011, when Pusateri’s flagship was ordered to close due to a pest issue. “It’s been non-stop, no sleep … it affected everybody. We were all shocked because it’s just something that’s never, ever happened,” says Rosanna, who grew up in the aisles of a company founded by her late father, Cosimo Pusateri. This news was particularly unexpected of a gourmet grocery brand that’s considered Toronto’s crème de la crème. “It was devastating because we let our customers down and we recognize that we have to regain their trust,” Luchetta adds, who was overwhelmed by the support his family received from local chefs, suppliers and loyal customers who called and made public appearances to display their fidelity. Jennifer Montemarano is one of those customers. “I was back the day after they reopened. I think my initial reaction was shock,” says Montemarano, whose been shopping at Pusateri’s for the past 10 years. “I just think everybody deserves a second chance. I know how devastating this was to them, and I know that they will do everything in their power to never let anything like this happen again.”
It’s in these circumstances that a business has to choose a fight-or-flight response that will measure recovery and dictate the future. Standing in solidarity with its burgeoning staff, Pusateri’s reopened three days later with an entirely new outlook on what they would do to not only win back loyalty, but surpass industry expectations. Its road to recovery is paved by a Gold Standard campaign that’s founded on principles of transparency and is committed to quality assurance and customer service. “In our stores and on our products, you’ll now see a gold seal that represents our family’s promise to our customers and friends,” says Luchetta. Their pledge is a commitment to excellence in all categories, something their selective clientele have come to expect.
Another fundamental facet of the campaign is bringing in former York Region health protection manager Dominic Fortuna as Pusateri’s full-time vice president of quality assurance. “I have an opportunity at this point to develop a program that you’ll never find anywhere else,” says Fortuna, who has more than 15 years of government and private sector experience standing on the other side as an inspector and manager responsible for ensuring food safety and public health. His multi-tiered approach includes self-enforcing monthly inspections, refining existing procedures and implementing additional standards to ensure Pusateri’s is surpassing the industry’s current quarterly protocol.
“Out of every challenge comes opportunity, for us that opportunity came while reflecting on our founding principles,” says Luchetta. Cosimo Pusateri began his brand in 1986 with the vision of establishing a fine food retail concept that was non-existent at the time. Toronto foodies no longer had to fly to Italy and France to fill their fridges with foreign delicacies, as they were now exclusively available at Pusateri’s. His idea caught on like flambéed crêpe suzette as many of the city’s top chefs and discerning consumers called on his idiosyncratic selections for rare ingredients, event catering and homemade gastronomy. Suppliers from around the world wanted their specialty products to find their place on Pusateri’s shelves; for many, belonging to the local luxe-mart was a mark of accomplishment. “Cosimo had insight, and that’s what it takes to make successful businesses. I call it the sixth sense, always knowing what’s next. It’s not always easy to find that,” says Vincent Liberatore, whose been supplying his Continental Noodles Ltd. products to Pusateri’s for 16 years.
Today, the community fixture has added a couple more links to its intimate independent chain, with locations in Yorkville and its most recent in Bayview Village Mall, bringing the staff total to more than 600. Famous faces that take advantage of Pusateri’s chefs and cuisine include U2’s Bono, The Rolling Stones and Kim Cattrall, who Ida says was seen shopping at the Yorkville location almost daily during her recent stay in Toronto.
With steaming housemade coffees in hand, everyone sitting at the table is confident that the implementation of gold standards and superior customer service will allow them to continue providing shoppers the same exceptional experience that Cosimo envisioned. Heading back downstairs and seeing the eccentric Manoucher Etminan serving his internationally sold specialty breads, as food-preneurs often come in to do, and finding out that 79-year-old Nonna Dina had stopped by earlier to make Hello Dollies for her clients, it’s clear that many of Pusateri’s tender traditions are still in tact. “We look at it as the three F’s: family, friends and food. It doesn’t matter what you do, if it’s a baby shower or a wedding or a bat mitzvah, whatever it is, at the end of the day, the thing that pulls it all together is family and breaking bread together,” says Mastroianni.