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A ‘Giant’ smile for employees, customers as new owners reveal plans for stores

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Standing outside the Wellsville Giant Food Mart are owners Nick Kusmierski, left, and his father, Brian Kusmierski, who is the president of the company.

By JOHN ANDERSON

As Nick Kusmierski walked around the Giant Food Mart grocery stores in Wellsville and Cuba on Monday, he wanted to meet each employee and let them know about the sale of the local stores to his family.

However, customers stopped him instead. They recognized him from his digital videos and ads for The Market in the Square, a popular place to shop and purchase a wide variety of groceries and fresh meals from scratch in West Seneca and North Tonawanda.

The reason those stores are so popular? His father, Brian Kusmierski, the new Giant Food Mart President and one of four owners along with his son Nick and daughters Erin Kusmierski and Danielle Hastings, has worked every aspect of a grocery store.

Brian Kusmierski started in the grocery business at age 16 in 1969 in a meat department and started dating his future wife, Donna, who was a meat wrapper. They’ve been married 44 years.

He worked at Park Edge Markets, the first Wegman’s stores in Buffalo for six years as a bakery and deli manager, Bell’s Market as a deli supervisor and director in 1981, moving to Rochester where he was promoted to run the bakery as well. With his background as a meat director, he ran that department until 1992 and worked for Fleming in the deli. Finally, in 1995, he opened his own business, The Market in the Square in West Seneca.

The father-and-son had quick work to do in Allegany County, as employees were not notified of the sale, other than some rumblings and a Wellsville Sun story when the stores closed early on Sunday. Some did not find out until Monday. That decision was not made by the Kusmerski’s, so they made it a point to meet with as many employees as possible to answer questions and get to know them.

New Giant Food Mart owners Nick and Brian Kusmierski sat down with the Wellsville Sun to discuss the purchase of the Wellsville and Cuba locations as well as their thoughts on the employees and their vision for the future.

As fascinating as their stores are in West Seneca and North Tonawanda, they wanted to sit down with the Wellsville Sun and talk about the employees they met, their plans for the store and the important things customers have already asked about: salt rising bread, sausage, gift cards, the store name and new food items.

“We started out our business with five words, ‘Give. Them. What. They. Want.’ If you are nice to people, if you are nice to your employees and encourage them, it rubs off on the customers,” Brian Kusmierski said.

FRESH FOOD

One of the first changes that are considering will be in the deli where new equipment and product will be brought in to make a better fish fry.

“We have a dynamite fish fry and the Giant Food Mart’s are not set up for those items so we have to do some investments in the stores,” he said. “We buy the haddock filets and we batter them. We do the real deal, it’s not pre-battered fish, it’s a tavern fish fry. I think our meat department and bakery are second-to-none and we have changed the way we do a deli and take-out cafe for a good three or four years.

“We want to bring ‘Meals to Go’ like we have in our Buffalo stores. The biggest problem we have with those now is, we can’t keep the case full,” Brian Kusmierski continued. “We make homemade soups, most of our bakery is scratch bakery. We have unique items to us. We make almond rings in the bakery, scratch-made polish cheese cakes, cannoli doughnuts and more. We have a vision for what we want to incorporate and will work to make it happen.”

SALT RISING BREAD AND SAUSAGE

Nick Kusmierski said, “It’s like here, there is salt-rising bread which is unique here and we will continue to provide for customers.”

As for the Giant sausage, the family said if people like it, they won’t take it away. But they want to enhance the sausage department with different spice blends.

“Growing up, I would hand-crank the sausage,” he said. “We are looking to add new things that we think we do well and we will see if the community likes it. But right now, there are things Giant does well and the community likes it, and that’s why we are here.”

EMPLOYEES

As for employees, they met with the managers and said there are about 70 employees at each store. The family said it’s not a guarantee, but they would like to grow the business and in turn, grow the staff.

“We will hire in accordance with the growth of the business,” Nick Kusmierski. “We had a nice discussion with the Cuba manager, Jim Erwin and we met with Phil WIlliams in Wellsville. We need to walk before we can run. We have to get our arms around the operations here and see what they do well.

“But we know what we want to attack first to make the shopping experience better. More variety, high-quality, great value and a friendly shopping experience,” he said.

Brian Kusmierski added, “That’s one thing that we were attracted to, how nice the employees were. The employees at both locations exceed expectation. Their customer service is impeccable, their attitude is great. We were a little nervous because the employees didn’t know it was sold and that was not the way we wanted them to find out.

“Down the road, we will be looking for scratch bakers so we can improve the products we provide customers. We will be looking for qualified bakers and qualified meat department employees to enhance the team,” Brian Kusmierski continued. “We want to instill the marketing programs with meat, the deli, bakery, we want to bring the things that are successful with The Market on the Square here.”

THE GIANT FOOD MART NAME

“It will remain Giant Food Mart,” Nick Kusmierski said. “The Wellsville store has been in the Wellsville community for 50 years, with Cuba, it’s a combined 80 years. We don’t see any need to change it to The Market on the Square.

“We didn’t know if it was our place to change something that has been the fabric of the community,” he continued. “If there is a call for it down the road, we would look at it.”

Brian Kusmierski added, “When we took over Budwey’s Supermarket in 2017 in North Tonawanda. People in Buffalo knew The Market in the Square and everybody knew Budwey’s. We felt that no matter what we put on the store, people would say, ‘We are going to Budwey’s.’ So we had our DBA as Budwey’s Market on the Square for a while.”

The Kusmierski said they purchased the Giant Food Mart name and website. They said if there is a time when it makes sense to change, they will, but right now, they want to learn from the Giant staff what each store does well.

GIFT CARDS AND LIQUOR STORES

The former owners of Giant Food Mart, Mike and Chris Berardi, sold gift cards.

New owner Nick Kusmierski said, “Due to some legal terms for the sale, the old gift cards will be available for redemption for 60 days. After that time, any gift card purchased while under previous ownership will no longer be valid.”

The liquor stores in each community were not sold. Chris Berardi will continue to own Park Plaza Liquor in Wellsville and Mike Berardi has their liquor store in Cuba.

The Kusmierski’s are focused on the grocery stores.

“The associates here have been great; they are just good people. These are successful stores,” Brian Kusmierski said. “When Mike and Chris called us and said they wanted to sell out, it was perfect. We have bought a losing store and it took a while to turn around. There are endless possibilities here and we have a chance to add additional associates to do what we want to do.”

EXPERIENCE AND GIVING BACK

Nick Kusmierski was playing football in high school at Kenmore East. When the season was over, he started working at The Market in the Square in West Seneca pushing carts, working the cash register and cleaning the meat room. He kept the job in college doing the same, but also locked up at night and started learning other departments, working in frozen foods, dairy and the meat department.

Nick has a Master’s Degree from Canisius College, he was a real estate agent and was a vice president in the banking industry at First Niagara until they merged with Key Bank.

“That provided a good exit for me to get back in the family business in August of 2016, and I’ve been working there ever since,” he said. “We had the West Seneca Store and in 2017, we purchased the North Tonawanda location from Frank Budwey. On January 17 of this year, we closed on the deal for the Cuba and Wellsville stores.”

The Market on the Square was built on unique foods in the deli and bakery.

“We feel that we have a cult following with The Market in the Square, we have items that nobody else has. We go after the ethic items like kielbasa, Italian sausage, Polish sausage,” Brian Kusmierski said. “We built our business on perishables. We had a strong meat department, bakery, deli and cafe.

The Kusmierski’s have been community partners and give back.

In 2020 when businesses were forced closed because of the pandemic, the Kusmierski’s bought gift cards for local spas, t-shirt shops, the bowling alley and more. When the stores were able to open, they ran a contest on Facebook and Instagram to give them away.

They made a special cheesecake doughnut for a fundraiser for the ECMC Trauma Unit. The fundraiser wound up raising $25,000 over the last two years. They ran a drive recently for Buffalo Bills All-Pro Safety Micah Hyde and raised close to $5,000 for his charity, Imagine for Youth Foundation.

“We are a small business and we are a family business,” Nick Kusmierski said. “But we are also community partners and we want to be a part of helping others.”

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