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Local emphasis pays off for City Meat Market

Store says local food producers are here for community because community supports them
Dakoda Smoke and Lori Nowitski of City Meat Market.

For family-owned City Meat Market, eating local has been a business and lifestyle for more than 15 years.

The market has always emphasized local food and recently that support paid off, both for City Meat Market and for its loyal customers. 

Through COVID-19, the market has had consistent access to excellent-quality food produced locally and has been able to provide it to its customers with minimal price increases.

It's done that through building its relationships with local food producers.

City Meat Market has been in continuous operation for more than 120 years with its current owners, John and Rosina Bruni purchasing it in 2005.

When John Bruni retired from his job as a butcher he pursued his passion of finally owning his own shop and his family enthusiastically followed him into the business.

SooToday spoke with Bruni's daughter, Lori Nowitski, who works in the market and helps oversee its operation.

"We kind of just stepped into his dream with our eyes closed, not knowing what to expect," Nowitski said. "I'll be honest with you... (16 years ago) I was not a downtown shopper, I was not a local supporter - today, I do everything downtown. If it's local, I'm in."

Now the family does most of their shopping downtown, supporting local merchants as much as they can.

"We support them because they support us," Nowitski added.

Nowitski said the market has, in the past, had less consistent access to local foods but, in the past few years, access to locally-produced foods has become more reliable.

Where meat is concerned, that access has come through Penokean Hills Farms, founded in 2005 by a group of Algoma farmers to preserve their way of life better by offering quality products aimed at a niche market. Part of that niche was local people looking for local food.

"We are a huge part of supporting local. Even more so now with the pandemic, I feel like it was always important but it's even more important now," Nowitski said. 

She said having access to local food is vital to community food security and recent events have demonstrated that fully. Nowitski pointed to recent food shortages and inflated costs caused in large part by panic buying at the beginning of COVID-19 shutdowns.

"We weren't getting our supplies and the only supplier that supported us 100 per cent was Penokean Hills Farms, which is local in Desbarats," Nowitski said. "We could count on them to deliver our products so we could continue to serve the community."

She said the pandemic was a desperate time of need, especially at the beginning, when no one knew what to expect and many worried that they would not be able to buy food and vital supplies for their families for some time to come.

"I was scared just watching people shop and seeing what they were buying," she said. "We were non-stop and it wasn't enough. We had four phones and we were on them all the time."

City Meat Market chose not to open its store to the public and to take orders by phone instead.

"We served people on the street, we delivered, we spent endless hours just to serve the community," Nowitski said. "I have to say, it was the local people that we could rely on the most."

Other grocery stores in the city also offered the service but people were told it would take weeks for their orders to be ready. At City Meat Market, orders were ready faster, often in the same week, and they had regular specials on larger quantities of fish, meat and poultry.

The benefits of relying on local food producers continue, now, she said.

Penokean Hills, the market's primary supplier of beef, has managed to keep its prices pretty close to the same while other producers have been raising their prices significantly - both through COVID-19 and beyond even as things begin to open up, again.

"There was a lot of inflation going on - a lot of gouging (by other suppliers), but he (Penokean Hills Director of Sales and Marketing, Nick Gordon) did not do that. He kept the prices."

Even in the face of rising demand for their products, local suppliers have made sure the needs of their community are met, Nowitski said. 

Consequently, City Meat Market has been able to pass on those prices to its loyal customers.

Nowitski credits customer support for its ability to develop and maintain business relationships with local food producers.

As demand for local food increases, the market can increase the number and types of local producers it deals with. It now offers fish, chicken, vegetables as well as baked goods and even coffee from local producers.