Holiday Market has been a fixture on Main Street in Royal Oak for more than 50 years. Founded by Tom Violante and his wife in 1953, it has become something akin to a cluster of separate markets under one roof. The meat department is reminiscent of the practically nonexistent butcher shops that sell fresh meat that isn't pre-wrapped in cellophane, instead giving customers an opportunity to inspect what they are buying. Holiday has an abundant selection of imported and domestic cheeses. One can find a full-service floral department, all kinds of ethnic ingredients, a large wine selection, fresh produce and a serious bakery. There is also catering and even a cooking school, which offer hands-on classes. The family prides itself on the store's customer service.
METRO TIMES: I remember when you were cutting meat. Your market is similar to a small neighborhood grocery, providing excellent service to your customers.
TOM VIOLANTE: We started in 1953. It was just me, my wife, a cashier, a part-time meat cutter and a couple of stock people. Today we have over 220 employees. When I started, there were approximately 30 grocery stores in the Royal Oak area. There was a grocery store on every block and a restaurant every mile. Now there is a complete inversion of that: a restaurant on every block and a grocery every mile.
MT: I've witnessed the changes that you've made over the years. Last week I had a tour of Mirepoix, your cooking school.
VIOLANTE: That's not mine. That's my son and my daughter. I gave them the business. I felt that I wanted to do this so they would have a vested interest in it. It's their responsibility to handle the day-to-day operation. They hire, they fire. It's their vision, their commitment to the business that makes this thing pump. I'm packing now to leave for Arizona for six months. It's been a long journey to get there, and a lot of people say that I'm lucky. It ain't luck. It's a lot of hard work. I got out of the service in 1951 and went to work at the Kroger at Washington and Lincoln for 90 cents an hour. I went to work there as a meat cutter. I had begun cutting meat for my dad at his store at John R and Six Mile when I was 13. He couldn't hire anybody. All the men were gone, in the service. By the time I was 18, he was paying me $5 a week. When he refused to give me a $20 raise, I told him that I was done. When I picked myself up off the floor, I told my dad that I couldn't buy a car; I couldn't afford to date a girl. He said that $5 was the limit. I found a job that paid $25 dollars a week with room and board and doctor, and enlisted in the United States Air Force. Anyway, while I was working at Kroger, there was a small store at Harrison and Main Street run by a guy by the name of Sam Weiss, where I went after work to get a six-pack and a pack of cigarettes. I walked in one day and said, "You're by far the worst grocer I've ever seen in my life." He told me that he didn't want to be a grocer, that he was looking for a sucker. I said, "You just found one." That was my first store. I had no money. At that time there was an outfit called Grosse Pointe Quality Foods that would stock your store with inventory. That's how I got started. We were so broke that I moved in with my mother and dad. By 1969, I had assembled a few parcels and built a strip center where we're located today. This store was originally 10,000 square feet. Now we've got the whole thing, 64,000 square feet.
MT: When did your kids get involved?
VIOLANTE: There was no such thing as an allowance in my family. "You don't work in the store, that's OK. You've got to go get a job." My daughter, Gina, worked ever since she was 13. My son, a chemical engineer, graduate of the University of Michigan, refused to work here, even as a child. Finally, seven or eight years ago, he decided to come to the company. So he and Gina run the store. They decided to expand. I feel that now we have the best store in Oakland County. One of my mottos is, "If we don't have it, you don't need it." Our concept is to have separate departments — bakery, meats, seafood, deli and the others — that are all the best they can be, all with the freshest foods available. We've grown from about $5,000 to $7,000 a week to over $30 million dollars a year.
MT: What has kept you from opening more stores?
VIOLANTE: My vision was never to be a multi-store operation. I'm a hardworking guy, but I had in my mind that when I get to a certain age, I don't work anymore. The graveyard's full of guys who really wanted to excel and get bigger. When you're in that grave, you're there for a long time.
Jeff Broder's food interviews appear regularly in Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Holiday Market is located at 1203 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-541-1414.