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Rabba Fine Foods Opening Stores in High-Density Neighbourhoods

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Rabba Fine Foods, a smaller-format urban grocery chain, has capitalized on the densification of the Greater Toronto Area by establishing itself as a key food market location for customers who love the convenience of having an accessible store open 24/7 and 365 days a year.

Since its beginning more than 40 years ago, the brand has grown to more than 30 locations within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) – two stores in Brampton, four stores in Etobicoke, one store in Milton, 12 stores in Mississauga, one store in Oakville and 14 stores in Toronto.

“Generally we tend to be in heavily-populated urban areas and that’s why the majority of our stores are really focused inside Toronto itself,” said Rick Rabba, president of the company and son of founder Jack Rabba.

“We’re on the smaller side. Our stores are typically small, urban stores that you would find underneath a condominium building . . . The Rabba family started out in the convenience business – the convenience store business – and we were operating convenience stores in downtown Toronto. People would come in and say ‘this is a great store but it would be so much better if I could get some produce here’. And customers would say ‘this is a great store but it would be even better if I could get some of my deli items, or bakery items here’.

“So over time we expanded our offerings and we expanded our philosophy to incorporate all of the departments you would find in a typical grocery store but in a much smaller format. So we’re really the small, urban grocery store. Many of our customers are living in condominiums in a densely-populated urban environment. They don’t have big refrigerators. They don’t have lots of storage capacity. They’re not buying in bulk. There might be one or two people. So we’re really catering to that urban grocery shopper.”

According to the company website, its roots began when Jack Rabba established himself as a small grocery store operator in Toronto in 1967:  “He had no way of knowing that his dedication, drive, and perseverance would eventually establish Rabba Fine Foods as an influential name in the Canadian retail industry. Yet, more than 50 years later, Rabba continues to grow and expand, still building on the foundation established by Jack when he opened the first location. Variety Food Fair, forerunner of Rabba Fine Foods, was a small grocery store located at Charles and Balmuto in downtown Toronto.”

One of the new developments with the company is recently establishing a partnership with coffee giant Tim Hortons. It has opened eight Tim Hortons locations inside of a Rabba store.

“That’s been a very successful partnership I believe both for us and for Tim Hortons and we’re continuing to develop that partnership where we have a Tim Hortons kiosk within our stores and we serve breakfast and all the beverages and all of the pastry items. And in some of our locations we have the full menu including the soup and the salad and the sandwich offerings of Tim Hortons,” said Rabba.

“We’re currently actively pursuing any new store locations that are in our niche because we know the types of neighbourhoods where we are needed and those are the types of neighbourhoods we look at. Toronto is experiencing significant growth in terms of condominium development. We’re actively involved in pursuing new locations in those types of neighbourhoods.”

He said the company is looking at expanding the Tim Hortons presence in the future in existing store locations.

Rabba said he couldn’t say how many stores the company will expand to in the future but added there is no upper limit to the number of stores it could build.

“It’s really more about where do our customers need us. We go where we’re needed,” he said.

“We always look at opportunities but the GTA really is where our roots are and it’s really where that type of urban customer exists who would most use the offering. It’s rare to find that type of situation outside of the GTA, but we don’t have a mandate that says we will not look outside the GTA. But it’s more that the further you get outside the GTA the fewer of those types of neighbourhoods exist.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He now works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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