Italian Centre takes the cake with big birthday bash

Thousands of customers and flash mob help celebrate store's anniversary


Edmonton’s Italian Centre Shop held a 10th anniversary party for its Southside store over the weekend—and 3,000 customers came to help celebrate.

The party included a live band, plus a flash mob courtesy of members of the Edmonton Opera, who broke out into song in the aisles to the delight of surprised shoppers.

The Southside store is one of four in the Italian Centre fleet. Two others are in Edmonton. A store in Calgary opened a little more than a year ago.

Owner Teresa Spinelli (third from right in photo above) said her company hopes to add a second Calgary location within the next three years.

“We still aim to grow,” she told Canadian Grocer.

Spinelli’s father, Frank, an immigrant from Italy, started Italian Centre as a small store in Edmonton in 1959. It sold mostly Italian magazines, pop and chocolate. But over time more grocery and deli items appeared, and Italian Centre turned into a full-fledged supermarket.

Spinelli took over the business in 2001, after her father passed away. She’s since added stores, sales and staff.

“When I took over, we were about 30 employees and $8 million in sales. Today we are at 500 employees and $64 million in sales,” she said. “We have grown a lot in the last 16 years.”

And Spinelli has picked up several accolades. She was recognized with a “Star Women in Grocery” award by Canadian Grocer two years ago. The same year she cracked Chatelaine and Profit magazines’ W100 list as one of Canada’s Top 100 female entrepreneurs.

So what’s Spinelli’s secret to running a successful supermarket? First it’s knowing that people and relationships drive the business. Simple gestures, like always saying hello to customers, matter.

“When people come to the grocery store they say, ‘Let’s go visit Teresa,’” she said. “They feel like they are a part of my family.”

Spinelli also teaches customers that eating healthy at home needn’t be complex. “I always say if your grandmother walked into a supermarket and doesn’t know what [a product] is, then you shouldn’t be eating it. We try to teach people that Parmesan doesn’t come in a green shaker.”

Of course, Italian Centre’s birthday party wasn’t short on fine food. Selection included 1,000 meatballs, a four-tier cake and 1,200 pounds of grass-fed Piedmontese beef from an Alberta farmer.