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Cantor’s Meats & Grocery: The Home of Quality Meats
Cantor’s Meats & Grocery (CMG) started as a small grocery store in the living room of a family of Polish immigrants in 1927. Joe Cantor, current president of CMG, says his father built up inventory in the early days by bartering food products with farmers in the countryside. “We opened our first storefront in 1944 in Winnipeg,” explains Joe. The grocer operated out of the same location for nearly 70 years, until there just was not enough room for all of the customers says Joe.
Saturdays are the busiest day of the week at CMG, and customers in the old store would often find themselves elbow to elbow in the narrow aisles. When the opportunity presented itself in 2009, the Cantor family built a brand new 13,000-square foot building for the grocery. The new store makes a lot more room for customers, product and employees alike. “We were able to add 25 people to our staff,” says Joe.
Once accommodations were made, the Cantors were able to concentrate on what is really important: meat. “We bring in fresh beef and cut it up the old fashioned way,” says Joe. The company purchases cattle from all over Manitoba, and Joe estimates he sells eight to nine whole animals per day. “We offer meat-cutting and delivery service,” he says, reflecting on a quality that discerns his business from the big-box stores lined with coolers of frozen meat slabs. “People want meat the old fashioned way and they want it to be fresh.”
“Take care of your customers and they’ll take care of you” is Joe’s guiding philosophy, and one that has gotten him into trouble over the years. “In 1987 I was almost prosecuted for selling milk too cheap,” he reflects. He was selling quarts for $0.16 less than the minimum allowed by law at the time. Milk and bread are the staples of most families’ groceries and, Joe says, “They should be sold at the lowest price possible.” Joe stuck to his guns and aided in changing price minimum legislation across Canada, all to better serve his loyal customers.
Joe has also gone toe-to-toe with the Freshwater Fish Marketing Board, as he strives to provide customers with high-quality, fresh food at the most affordable prices possible. For many years he has supplied Winnipeg with fish directly from the dock, no middleman or wholesaler involved. The board challenged his practices, but he stood up once again for his customers. “I told them I’d continue to buy directly from fishermen,” he says. Without involving a wholesaler, fishermen get a better price for their catch, meanwhile offering the seafood at a low rate. “I can pass those savings along to my customers,” Joe explains.
CMG has found success through offering value, and Joe says that’s what he’ll continue to do. A new Super Target store is moving to the area, offering discount clothing, home goods, groceries and more. The competition is not a welcomed addition to the community, but Joe says Target cannot compete with the level of service offered by CMG. “We offer full-service delivery right to the customer’s doorstep,” he explains.
Joe has established longstanding relationships with his suppliers, a practice that keeps costs low and offers peace of mind when it comes to quality. “I buy milk, bread and groceries through Safeway,” he says. He was offered a supply contract with Superstore in late 2011, but he declined, preferring to stay with the company and people he has worked with for so many years.
Joe is as dedicated to the business as his parents were so many years ago. He works six days per week, and only because the store is closed on Sundays. Each day Joe gets up very early to open the store and check through the fridges. “The butchers arrive at about 4:30 a.m., and they spend the morning making custom meat cuts, patties and sausages that supply local restaurants, as well as local households,” he says.
Parts of Manitoba were hit hard by the recent global recession. “The economy is a bit weak right now,” Joe says. “We’re hoping it gets better soon.” For the time being, Joe believes it is more important than ever to supply his customers with the basics for less. Further north, the town of Thompson has started losing all of its chain grocery stores, and Joe plans to pick up business there and already offers deliveries to customers there.
“I’m always open to looking for new business,” says Joe. He has no big plans for expansion aside from boosting his supply to the northern parts of the province. He is content to stick to what he and his team do best. “A cow is a cow, a pig is a pig,” he explains. “So we’re not exactly looking at any new products.” It’s a pattern that works, and Cantor’s Meats & Grocery continues to sell the best quality local meats at the lowest prices on the market.