Interview with Gino Masi, co-owner of Columbus Meat Market. – interviewed on November 18th 2015
Have you ever really thought about what goes into making a food product? Sure, there’s usually the necessary ingredients, presentation, and distribution involved, but I don’t mean any of those things. I’m talking about the real experiences, stories, failures, and successes that go into taking a product from a founder’s mind, all the way to your plate. Here at Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria, we decided we would bring you the stories behind the ingredients and products we use every day to serve you locally fresh, authentically Italian food. For now, we’re calling this series Foodtrepreneur: Lessons & stories about creating a food business. The food industry is notoriously tough, and we thought you might appreciate not only the stories behind the products, but the story behind the business itself. Foodtrepreneur is about food, and it’s about winning – if you like both of those things, you should keep reading 😉
Before the holidays I had the chance to speak with Gino Masi, co-owner of Columbus Meat Market, located in Vancouver, BC. Columbus is a large meat supplier for Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria, and we thought it would be awesome to know more about the story behind the meat. Gino is a very charismatic and charming man, and we think you’ll like his story. So without further ado, here is our interview…
Give us a little background as to how your company started and what you do…
We started back home, we’re the third generation being in the butcher business. My grandfather started in Italy, and then my father took over. We had a massive earthquake in southern Italy in 1981 and we lost almost everything. My brothers were already here from the 70s, the rest of the family ended up in Canada in the 80s.
Columbus started in 1973, and my brothers and I took it over the business in 1991. It was a little butcher shop – which we still have next door – and from there we developed the shop to what we are today. We are six brothers in total; another brother joined us, Giancarlo, as well as Vince who is no longer with us. So we’re three brothers at the Shop, but even our other brothers come in from time to time to help out.
Now after 24 years that we’ve been in this block, on January 6th 2016 we’re moving to Charles Street to a new facility with a more efficient butcher shop that’s newer, more modern, and has more space.
So I was going to ask you why you started the business, but it seems as though it’s a family gene…
It really is a family gene. My grandfather had a butcher shop and a bar, and my dad was the only son among two sisters, so he took over the business. My mom was running the bar while my father was running the butcher shop. Our generation was supposed to take over back in Italy but we moved to a different country and continued over here instead!
Did you have any prior business experience before Columbus?
Well, my brother had a butcher shop when we came to Canada, so I had a chance to help him a little bit in his business. Columbus was the first time that I stepped into something new that I owned and it was a different experience. I have responsibility of bills, and responsibility of bringing money home, so yeah it was different.
So for many people, starting a business is a little bit scary. Did you have any doubts or fears while you were building the business?
Not really, because when you’re born into a business, it’s a normal thing. You know, you live with that experience night and day. First you see your father do it, and then your brother, so it doesn’t shock you. Of course, you have a little bit of fear, because you always want things to go right and not wrong. Then adjusting with customers that Columbus had already from the old owners, so you want to adjust into that system. So that was the only real doubt, to make sure that we were doing a good job and satisfying the existing customers even better than what it was.
What has been your favourite part of creating the business?
I enjoy coming here and serving all of our customers, talk to them, and finding out what they want next. It’s always about satisfying your clients and making them happy, because when they’re happy you’re happy too. You go home at night and you say “I did another wonderful job and everybody is happy to come to Columbus and shop” that’s the goal at the end of the day. Making sure our customers are satisfied, that’s what I find most favorite part about this business.
In terms of strategy, what is your point of differentiation? Why shop at Columbus meats and not at one of your competitors?
Why Columbus? Three generations of butchering, we cut everything from scratch. We have so much experience behind us that know exactly what our customers are looking for, and 99% of the time we don’t fail. Another thing, if you want to find out anything about a particular animal, then you can come to Columbus and you’ll find anything you want – from head to toes.
We also have the best butchers in town, we don’t hide that. Besides myself and my brothers, we have two wonderful fellows, Andrea (who has been doing this since he was 15), and Massimiliano who just came from Italy two years ago and also started in the business when he was only 11. So why not shop at Columbus when you can get the best service and the best butchers!
What type of culture do you try and create to ensure you don’t drift away from your core value proposition?
We simply recognize our customers and understand what they want. We don’t change our strategy for cutting or serving, we just try to keep bringing new inventory for our customers. When we started, it was a different generation, and mothers used to come and make everything from scratch. They’d come here and buy the bones, the ground beef; they’d go home and make the meat sauce and their soup from scratch with our products. Now times have changed, and there’s less and less time in our community and everyday life, so we bring new products to our customers and cater to these needs. But we always stick to our base.
What is the best piece of business advice you ever got?
One thing I’ll never forget is what my dad used to tell me… “When you have a smile on your face, you make a hundred people happy.” When people walk through the door the first thing you want to do is smile, and the next thing is to provide exactly what the customer wants, and the third thing is quality. Quality is the number one piece of advice that I give to anyone. Be honest. Quality and always, always, try to satisfy your customer.
Are there any books or even movies that really inspired you?
No not any movies or books, to be honest with you. My Grandfather and Father inspired me. I take advice from older people who inspire me as well. I always admire listening to advice from older people and what they have to say. And in the end, what I learned after being here for over 24 years is that they are never wrong. You know when we’re young and someone says “I’ve been through that and you should do this”, we think that we’re young and we can do whatever we want. But when you get older and you look back at what they told you ten or fifteen years ago, today I understand that it was all right. There was no piece of advice that was wrong.
Thanks so much, Gino!
Columbus Meat Market
1655 Renfrew Street