Al Nanji III has no illusions about his situation – he has big shoes to fill.
After 45 years running the local grocery store, Didi Calhoun had set the bar high. As the owner with a long track record, it was her store run her way. It’s a little different for the “new guy”. He also has a very different background.
Nanji arrived in Canada with his family in 1980 after a circuitous trip from Tanzania across Europe. His family was fleeing persecution originating from Uganda’s violent dictator, Idi Amin. The leader’s regime of terror had spilled over into neighbouring countries as his purging of various ethnic and religious groups spread.
The family found its way to Canada thanks in part to Pierre Trudeau, who opened the doors of this country in the 1970’s to these victims this humanitarian crisis, cementing the country’s bond with the Aga Khan who was acting on behalf of the victims seeking countries who would grant the refugees asylum. The Aga Khan is the Imam or spiritual leader of the Ismaili branch of Shiite Islam. The title is passed down through the family, and the incumbents are believed by some to be a direct descendant of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Mohammed.
The Nanji family arrived at Pearson Airport in late 1980 with little more than the clothes on their backs. They spent the next three months in social housing near Jane and Finch, relying on the food bank and the help of strangers as they got their bearings. Enterprising and ambitious, the family quickly found their feet, but the kindness they experienced had a profound impact on eleven year old Al.
After working with his father in the family restaurant business, Al shifted careers working in a variety of grocery chains, recently in the role of a district manager for Sobey’s.
At the beginning of July, Nanji took over the reins of the Millbrook Foodland as a corporate manager on behalf of the parent. The situation is temporary, as ultimately the plans are to sell the business to a franchisee.
Store owners have more wiggle room in how they do things. Nanji is in a different situation, and some of the changes observed by customers and staff reflect this difference.
There are staff uniforms now, and there is paperwork- lots more of it. There are more rules, and they are enforced. It’s Nanji’s reputation on the line, and he wants to make a good impression. His entrepreneurial roots are looking for an outlet, and he would like to be an owner/operator instead of a corporate manager.
Just because the store may feel more like a business than a family, that doesn’t mean it lacks heart. Nanji is a hard worker at the store seven days a week, setting a good example and delegating more responsibilities to staff to help them grow. He recognizes that he has to earn the community’s business by being a good corporate citizen, and is quick to respond to requests from the public, to help a local cause or bring in a different product. Local products continue to stock the shelves where possible, including berries, corn and maple syrup. His experience has left him with a soft spot for the food bank, and he has held a fundraising barbeque and has a donation bin for their benefit.
With extensive experience in a variety of locations and organizations, Foodland’s new store operator brings a fresh perspective to our local grocery store. Welcome to Millbrook, Al! KG