I first met Tom 22 year ago, the early years when my brother Chris and I were just starting our business. Tom had asked to stock our original tortillas, in a clear bag with a simple sticker, in his top-performing Dominion store.
That was a big deal for us because we were not listed with head office at the time and we couldn’t afford the listing fees. Here we were being invited into the #1 Dominion store in Canada. Not only that but he called two other store managers and told them they needed to stock our items as well.
Tom was like that. He did what he wanted in HIS store. If his customers wanted a product and it was not listed he would find a way to make it available.
He did this for my wife several times. In one case I know that he drove over to a competitor’s store, purchased the item and had it available. He did this out of service to his customers not only because it made good business sense but also because of the pride he took in his incredible dedication to customer service. It was also a testament to a huge heart.
That huge heart sadly stopped and I will miss him forever.
He always agreed to support my many charitable requests. He supported hundreds of charitable events in the community.
He watched my girls grow up and they loved their Big Tommy. They also loved their frequent Kit Kats from him.
Tom ran a tight ship, the best store in the chain for years. He managed his staff well. They worked hard and loved him. He chose to smile and embrace the good in life and people every day. I loved that in him.
He called me the Mayor of Leaside. I called him the Colonel. We always shared jokes. He always took time to chat or joke with my wife and always asked if she had found everything she needed.
My wife and I got to know Ulla, Amanda and Jennifer on a trip to the Dominican Republic for John Derringer’s wedding.
I want to tell you a funny story about that trip. On the first day I sat down next to Tom under a pool-side cabana. He was wearing a Hawaiian-style shirt, drinking a tall cocktail with an umbrella in it.
We clinked glasses and he said; “Neal, it doesn’t get better than this.
I said, “It sure does Tom. Look over at 2 o’clock – tall brunette in a yellow bikini! Without turning his head to look he said ,“Neal, one more comment about either one of my daughters this trip and I will kick you out of my stores.”
As I was about to laugh, assuming he was kidding, this beautiful girl addressed him as Dad!
Thousands of neighbours within several kilometres of Bayview and Eglinton loved Tom. My wife and daughters loved him and we will miss him dearly.
His amazing staff will miss their beloved Mr. Sanders, or The Boss.
It is especially painful for his beloved Ulla, two daughters and three grandchildren. He was extremely proud of his family and often talked about them with a big smile and huge pride.
Rest in peace Tommy. I will see you one day in that big grocery store in the sky. I’ll make sure I have some new jokes.
Peter Neal, Rykert Cres., is a founding partner of Neal Brothers Food Inc.