Supplier Spotlight: Bondi Produce
To celebrate Bondi joining the ChefHero family of trusted supplier partners, we wanted to present an exclusive deep dive into the company’s history. Learn how their 40 years of expertise has built one of the most respected, innovative produce supply networks in Canada.
We got together with Ezio Bondi and Matt DuPerrouzel, lifelong best friends that are bringing a new level of innovation into the produce space.
From New Toronto Food Co. to implementing tech to improve processes and customer experience, learn about how these two are taking produce to the next level.
So Ezio, what’s the story behind Bondi? From where you started to where you are today.
[Ezio] The company started off as I Bondi. The “I” standing for Ignazio, my grandfather. He started this business over 40 years ago as an immigrant from Sicily. When he was about 40, he came to Canada and tried working a bunch of odd factory jobs that never quite worked out. One day he got the idea to go to the food terminal to buy some produce, load it into his pickup truck and drove around to local restaurants. He knocked on doors to see if they were interested in buying whatever he was offering that day, he was essentially a peddler. It worked. At the time I think his goal was really just to provide for his family, and this provided a solution to that.
But, things kept rolling. The orders got bigger. He took on more customers and needed some extra help. At that time my dad, Gus had just started his family. He just had his first kid, which was me, and started working in the business.
At the age of 60, my grandfather wanted to retire early, so my dad bought him out. We changed our name to Bondi Produce and incorporated. I think that’s really when Bondi was born. Things just kind of grew from there. We started selling to retail customers and chains which took us to another level. We continued to grow more and more to get to where we’re at today.
So, how did you and Matt get involved with the family business?
[E] Matt and I met in the seventh grade and we became friends fast. Every summer, I worked for my dad and he’d say, “Do you have any friends who want to come work for us?” He loved the free labour. I told him that I had a badass friend named Matt.
[Matt] Yeah, I think my first job was actually at Bondi. We would finish school at 3pm and work until 11pm just making pineapple boxes, tagging the pineapples and putting them into the boxes.
[E] Eventually, we both went away to university but still came back to work for the summers. I studied advertising and business. When I graduated in 2010, the economy was in the tank. It was so difficult to get a job out of school. So, I decided to work at Bondi.
[M] I actually graduated before Ezio and already had a six-month head start at Bondi. So, when Ezio came on board I took him under my wing.
[E] We didn’t really have job titles. When I joined, my dad was just like, “All right, here’s a phone, a desk, and the yellow pages. Start selling.” We never really had a sales team before so there wasn’t really anyone we could learn from. I made my first cold call in front of Matt. My voice was so shaky, I was so nervous. I didn’t know what to say or how I was going to sell produce. I bombed my first meeting and didn’t make the sale. That’s kind of how my sales career started.
[M] It drove me crazy. For about six months, we sat next to each other and he would never make any cold calls. Turns out he waited until he was alone to make the calls.
[E] The way I see it is, Matt and I both loved to eat out. My mentality was that I was only going to serve accounts that I wanted to eat at. This way I knew I actually had an interest in the account and provide them with the service and attention they deserved. This approach helped us pick up a few solid accounts along the way. With a mix of luck and lots of hustle, we started building up a reputation for ourselves.
How would you describe your partnership?
[M] As an old married couple maybe? He’s my “work wife”. We have different roles within the company. I work on the operations side. I think about the nitty-gritty details where Ezio is more of the sales guy, big picture thinking.
We’ve worked together long enough where we’re able to hold each other accountable. We’re not afraid to call each other’s bullshit and at the end of the day, no one takes it personally.
[E] I take it personally. Just kidding. We are always challenging each other on how we can improve the company and at the end of the day, the best idea is appointed. We’re in a very fortunate situation. We’ve been best friends since we were kids and to be working side by side each other in a classroom for 10 years and now in a workplace, we’re very fortunate.
At what point did you start getting involved with tech?
[E] When I was in school, it was the start of web 2.0, and social media was becoming a prominent thing. I’ve always been interested in marketing and branding, so when I looked at the industry I noticed that no one had a website and all of the logos looked like they were from the 1900s.
[M] Everyone was using fax and voicemail too.
[E] So, I had a vision that we should brand ourselves. We built a new website and that brought on the ability to introduce online ordered.
[M] When we joined, we had about 70 orders on a busy day. The process to fulfill these was done completely with paper and pen. People would leave their orders by voicemail, someone would write that order on paper, that piece of paper would be handed to an employee who would then pick off that piece of paper and put little x’s beside what he was picking, that paper would then get handed to another employee and entered into the system. He would then write where the truck was going on another piece of paper.
As we started scaling the business, this process just didn’t make sense anymore. We had an ERP system and although it wasn’t the best system, it suited us at the time. So, as we scaled, we realized that the distribution business requires a lot of technology and so we invested in new tech. In 2014, we joined a distribution group called Produce Alliance. We got to meet with other distributors and visited their warehouses. It blew our minds. Coming from a place where our biggest competitor had 30 trucks to seeing a warehouse with at least 150. All of their employees were running around with computers on their arms and there were screens everywhere. It opened our eyes.
So, we implemented a software that I think has been one of the vital pillars of where this company is today. It’s completely changed our order process.
[E] We wouldn’t have been able to scale to the size we are today without technology. The technology we’ve implemented is a big differentiator for us. Being innovative is something we’ve always prided ourselves in.
On the topic of innovation, how did New Toronto Food Co. get started?
[M] It’s a sister company of Bondi. There were a lot of factors that came into play. First, Kathleen Wynne was really pumping an increase in minimum wage. Also, real estate was getting really expensive downtown. Those two things in correlation are:
You can’t work in a restaurant if you don’t live downtown. No one is commuting to the city to be a line cook.
Restaurateurs were going to start paying $18-20 an hour for employees to cut produce, which reduced their margins even more.
So, we decided to start a processing company because it’s what the market needed. We bought one line and started cutting kale. This snowballed and we started doing niche items like fajita blends, diced tomatoes. It blew up. We’ve grown very organically just by looking at our current customer base and seeing what kinds of solutions we could sell them.
Long story short, there was a high demand for good quality, fresh cut produce and we met that demand.
Diving more into innovation and tech, why did you choose to partner with ChefHero?
[E] It just comes down to adapting with innovation. I think ChefHero is changing the space, for both restaurants and suppliers, and we wanted to be part of this next wave of innovation. It offers a solution to restaurant owners that's never been offered before and for us we see it as an opportunity to increase our market share, reach more customers that perhaps previously we haven't had the opportunity to reach and grow our business so that's the long and short of it.
[M] Yeah, ChefHero gave us an opportunity to continue to grow in this city. We can employ enough salespeople to touch every single restaurant and open every single door, but sometimes our sales guys might have just overlooked certain accounts so it doesn't hurt to have another partner out on the streets promoting your brand and promoting what you're capable of doing.
How do restaurateurs benefit more if they choose to go with a more localized option like Bondi versus a major broadliner?
[E] We are specialists in what we do. We know produce, it’s what we do very, very well. I think that’s the ultimate benefit. There’s a lot of information we have to offer that’s valuable that broadliners don’t necessarily think about. We really pride ourselves in carrying an eclectic mix of products, from seasonal to internationally procured. We're always bringing in new and exciting stuff from around the world for our customers, even if there isn’t a high demand for it, we’ll still try it.
When you're dealing with a broadliner, who is more bureaucratic and there's a lot more to checks and balances in place. There really isn't much flexibility. I feel that when you work with a broadliner, you're dealing with a sales rep who's commissioned, who's incentivized to sell at higher prices and their main objective is to push products. Whereas, when you work with Bondi, you get more accessibility. If you wanted to speak to our president, chances are he’ll pick up the phone. We’re a local business, we’re a local family and we consider ourselves as part of the city’s fabric.
[M] Speaking on competition, you’ve got your local produce guy who goes to the market and is a great resource. At the same time, they have to deal with tremendous market fluctuations. Then you’ve got the major broadliners who go directly to the source. However, a broadliners disadvantage is that they don’t necessarily have the volume and turnover that a traditional produce company will have. So they both have their pros and cons, where we have tried to be kind of in the middle. We’re a direct source supplier, working with brands like Andy Boy, Taylor Farms and specialty farms in Europe. This allows us to serve our customers with fresher products because we have more control over where our produce comes from.
Building off of that, what kind of relationship can customers expect to have with Bondi?
[E] I think you're going to get a produce experience unlike any other. I think a lot of traditional produce companies kind of end the relationship after the first order. We don’t want to be a faceless, nameless company that's just dropping stuff off at your backdoor, and you never hear from us after.
You're going to get the attention you need and you're going to get answers quickly. All of our reps are super responsive. I encourage them all to give out their personal cell phone numbers to their customers and I encourage them to follow up not just after the first order but the second, third, fourth order and to talk to their customers regularly. So, I think you're going to get a lot of TLC.
How do you ensure that all the foods that come to Bondi are always up to food safety standards?
[M] We have a full-time QA guy on staff. When it comes to produce we have an approved suppliers list, our vendors, we get audits from all their fields that get done on a 12 month basis. This is when a third-party company comes in, inspects all of our processes and certifies us as a Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) distribution center.
In addition we recently installed a WMS system, which allows us to fully trace down to the pallet. I might go out on a limb and say we are the only produce company in Ontario currently with that capability to tell you not only what truck an item came off of, but which pallet it was picked from, at what time, who loaded it and at what time it was loaded. We're very proud of the initiative that we took on. It was a substantial investment for us, but it's going to help us get to the next level of service. We’re able to ensure a better fulfillment rate and a massive reduction in mistakes.
Something I continue to hear about Bondi is about the specialty farms you work with. Let’s talk about that.
[E] I recently had the idea of offering more specialty citrus products to our customers. So I reached out to a new farm in California that grows things like fresh yuzu, kaffir limes, bergamot, buddha’s hand and a wide variety of quats. So, once November hits, we’re going to be carrying a full line of specialty citrus for customers. Last year we had a really great European specialty program that we introduced that sourced things like pink radicchio and other items that no one in this market has ever seen before. We run specialty programs that are in line with what’s in season in that particular area and bring it here. Same goes for when things are in season in Ontario.
So, when it comes to seasonality, many restaurants don’t necessarily adapt their menu seasonally. What’s the consequence of that?
[E] I think that this is where there’s a gap in the education system for chefs. Many of them come out of school without being taught enough about seasonality. They have the luxury of working with seasonal ingredients, but I don’t think they’re taught the optimal time to purchase them. This results in a lot of restaurants paying insane rates at certain times of the year because they’re not necessarily purchasing what’s in season. Not to mention the environmental impact this can have.
Of course, we do work with many chefs who are ahead of the game and take something off the menu because they know it’s coming out of season, but not all.
If you’re currently a ChefHero customer and would like to start ordering from Bondi Produce, contact your Account Manager to get started!