At 4 a.m., the Ontario Food Terminal is already abuzz
June 11, 2019
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Friday is one of the slowest days at the Ontario Food Terminal, but the loud yelling, beeping and constant zooming of carts suggest otherwise.
The food terminal, located in Etobicoke on The Queensway near Park Lawn Road, employs nearly 1,500 people, and an average of 2,500 customers come through the 40 acre site daily. It is the third-largest wholesale market in North America by volume. Each year, nearly 1 billion kilograms of produce and horticultural products move through the facility.
Johnvince Foods is one of 22 businesses that operate at the terminal, supplying nuts, dried fruit, candies, packing supplies, spices and condiments to chain stores, independents and small grocers such as Colombo’s, Island Farms and Bruno’s.
“This here is basically a cash-and-carry,” says Lino Vittorio, director of operations at Johnvince Foods. He said his company’s operation at the food terminal serves small independent grocers and retailers, while larger chain stores deal with his head office (in North York).
The company receives about 22 pallets of products from Vietnam, India, South Africa and South America, which they then sell to retailers. On a slow day like this recent Friday, the company may deal with anywhere from 150 to 300 customers, who spend as little as $10 up to more than $5,000 each.
Vittorio, 66, has been managing the Johnvince Foods facility at the terminal for 30 years, 25 of which he spent on the terminal’s board of directors. He also serves as a board member for the Toronto Wholesale Produce Association, which manages the financial relationships between produce importers, wholesalers and retailers in southern Ontario.
“I like to joke around that I went to U of T — University of the Food Terminal,” says Vittorio. “It’s a learning experience to be here.”
Before moving to the food terminal, Vittorio worked for three years as a buyer and merchandiser at Canadian Tire.
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“I’ve been in produce since I was 14, so well over 50 years, and have been working in chain stores as a manager, as a buyer, as a merchandiser and as a wholesaler,” he says. “As far as the produce business, from one end to the other, I’ve done it all, except growing the product.”
Shawn Martell, 37, works in the shipping and receiving area of the Ontario Food Terminal for another company called Fresh Advancement Produce. He starts his day there at 4 a.m.
“We do this six days a week. The food terminal is open six days a week; Saturdays we have off,” says Martell.
Martell inspects the fruit that comes in, like Mexican avocados. He looks for imperfections, ripeness, and decides whether or not to accept the product on behalf of his company.
“We get a lot of different product from all over the world. Some local, some American, some overseas,” he says.
Despite the tough hours, Lino Vittorio says the best part of being here at 4 a.m. is seeing the city come alive.
“Almost everybody starts at 4 a.m.,” he says. “The hours are tough, it obviously affects your social life. You get used to it, but it’s high pressure. But it’s great to see the city waking up, and by the time noon-one o’clock rolls around, everything is done here.”