By Lorrie Baumann
Avie Rosacci, Chief Operations Officer of family-owned Tony’s Market, with four stores in Denver, knows exactly how her father started the business: that happened when her little brother pointed out an abandoned 7-11 store to their father one day in 1978. Her father could not have imagined at that time what the little butcher shop he’d always dreamed of would turn into, she says. “It’s beyond our wildest dreams,” she says. “We opened as a little butcher shop, and we thought that was going to be it.”
Tony Rosacci started working at the age of 9 in a small Italian corner market in Detroit. He earned $3 a week. Except for a stint in the Army, he was in the grocery business all his life. By the late 1960s, he was in California working for Ralph’s and moved the family from California to Littleton, Colorado in 1970 to work for King Soopers, now part of The Kroger Company before moving on to a smaller butcher shop, Ed’s Meats. “As we were growing up, he always talked about how someday he’d have a little butcher shop of his own,” Avie says.
The family talked about it so much that the idea was the foundation of some of the family games: Tony would tell the kids stories of his own butcher shop, and Avie would be behind the cash register while little brother Danny and brother Mick would help Dad. Then in 1978, Tony and Danny drove past the abandoned 7-11 on their way home from church one Sunday, and Danny suggested that the building could make that little butcher shop.
“They went to the bank for a loan, didn’t get the loan, so they sold the house and took the proceeds to open the store,” Avie remembers. “He left Ed’s, and we did open, literally, a small butcher shop.” That store had white powder-coated meat cases, and Tony wasn’t a grocer; he was a butcher. “No produce, no deli. It was a butcher shop,” Avie says. “I don’t think we even had seafood. We might have had some frozen crab legs. I remember painting the special on the front window when I was much younger.”
Customers came from the neighborhood, and the store was staffed by one employee plus Avie’s mother and father and the three Rosacci kids. Over the years, the store grew out of its space and gradually into the spaces that had been occupied by the other businesses in the small shopping center. Tony’s Market added a deli department, a bakery and a center store. The meat orders during holiday seasons started to generate so much business that customers lined up around the building, and Tony had to bring in a police officer to keep the crowds of customers within the fire marshal’s regulations. “Our little building couldn’t handle it, so we opened our second store,” Avie says. “Then we added the other two over the next 10 or 12 years.”
“It was kind of Dad’s dream that came to fruition, but Dad never dreamed of what it is today,” she continues. “It grew over time. It took us close to 20 years to open that second store.” Tony’s Market now comprises four Denver metro area stores ranging from 2,500 to 8,000 square feet, plus Tony’s Burgers, a casual restaurant inside its downtown Denver store, and Tony Rosacci’s Fine Catering, a full service catering division that entered the picture in 2004 and serves weddings and galas as well as supporting the company’s headquarters, warehousing,floral department and commissary operations.
For 11 years, until the team built a new facility with its own kitchen, the catering division fed the Denver Broncos, and today, Tony Rosacci’s Fine Catering is in its second season of feeding the Colorado Avalanche hockey team and its coaches. “That’s been fun, feeding the team and the staff,” Avie says. “With the Broncos, we started at 4 a.m. and would end most nights around 9 p.m. feeding them up to four meals a day and snacks, and that would go on until the season ended.”
Each of the four stores is unique to its neighborhood, with the product assortment at the downtown location favoring organic and local produce as well as prepared foods featuring whole grains and low fats for the urban professional clientele there, and stores in the neighborhoods populated by families and seniors offering products that lean more toward comfort foods like twice-baked potatoes, fried chicken and pasta dishes as well as the local and organic favorites. Each store still does its own meat-cutting in-house, with butchers at each location. All the beef is premium choice, and it’s all aged. Beef is ground several times a day, and all the meat is sold fresh. Anything that stays in the store too long to be sold fresh is frozen and then donated to charity. “Tony’s is still really known for the beef and the meats. People still call us by our own name of Tony’s Meats, which is what we opened as,” Avie says.
Today, Tony has retired to the golf course, Daniel Rosacci is now CEO of Tony’s Market and Mick is the company’s head chef. As chief operations officer, Avie is in charge of employee training and compliance with government regulations and is also attending school to learn nutrition therapy, an area of study that she became interested in while she was feeding the Broncos. “I like to see people take better care of themselves, whether that’s 10 percent better or 60 percent better,” she says.
A wide range of customers shop at the stores, but what they tend to have in common is that they have busy lives and they want high-quality products and they want to get into the store, find what they need, and get out fast, which is why it’s so very important to Avie that the 280 to 300 employees in the stores are well-trained and that customer service is excellent. “Our customer service is above and beyond. We tell our employees to hug them with your words because they have many choices,” Avie says. “We understand the pace of how America lives today. We’re really aware of getting them in and out. When they come in, we want to take care of them as quickly and efficiently as possible and get them out to their soccer practice or wherever they need to be.”