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Sunset’s Diamond Anniversary – How it all began

February 10, 2012

This year Sunset Foods celebrates its Diamond Anniversary – commemorating 75 years in the retail grocery business. To mark this important occasion, we look back at the history of Sunset Foods and tell the special story of how it all began.

The history of Sunset Foods demonstrates how the Cortesi family has balanced responsiveness to customers, exceptional quality and competitive prices to make “Sunset” synonymous with “superior grocery shopping” on the North Shore – and beyond.

In February, 1937, Sunset Foods opened for business in a 25 foot by 30 foot storefront rented by John J. Cortesi and his uncle, Adeodata Fontana. Sunset Park, adjacent to the original location at 635 Central Avenue in downtown Highland Park, inspired its name. At the start, customers phoned in orders for home delivery as self-service shopping did not yet exist.

At the time, Highland Park was in the process of transforming itself from a sleepy country village to a bustling suburb.  The nation was still in throes of the Great Depression, and while it was a difficult time for retailers, it soon became apparent that the Cortesi style of charm and service would be a formula for success.

John was soon joined in the business by his brother Otto.  Together they bought out the Fontana share and continued to gain attention in the area for their outstanding customer service and unique product offerings.

By 1948, Highland Park had grown to 16,000 residents and the city was considering how to handle the expected population growth of the coming decades.  Growth was also on the mind of the Cortesi family and two additional brothers, Willie and Hugo, became partners in the business.  The store relocated to a slightly larger facility ½ block east on Central Avenue and Sunset took a dramatic step forward by offering self-service shopping to its customers.  The innovation, rejected by many grocers, helped Sunset continue to prosper.

Business was brisk as Sunset’s popularity continued to grow and it wasn’t long before an even larger store was needed.  In a third significant expansion in 1954, Sunset moved “up the hill” to its current location on Green Bay Road. Here in the newly built facility, the Cortesis vowed that once Sunset customers selected their groceries and placed them in their carts, they would not have to handle them again – until they arrived home.  A unique checkout procedure began which continues to this day, and represents the fastest, most convenient supermarket checkout experience offered anywhere.

As the Cortesi family – and Sunset’s family of customers – continued to expand, a second location was added in downtown Northbrook in 1960 and a third store soon followed in West Lake Forest in 1965. Customer service remained Sunset’s highest priority, in keeping with the family’s philosophy, and the stores soon became informal gathering places where residents met for coffee and conversation.

The next three decades saw continued advancements for Sunset Foods.  A major remodeling was completed at the Highland Park store in 1983, and a completely new Lake Forest Sunset was built in 1990.

By 1992, the time had come for the Cortesi brothers to begin transferring responsibility of the business to the family’s next generation, involving Bill Cortesi, Richard Cortesi, and Ron Cizzon in management of the company.  Additional family members assumed greater roles at the store level while maintaining the family tradition of providing unique and unparalleled customer service – as well as the best in product selection – all at competitive prices.

As the next millennium approached and a new generation of shoppers became acquainted with the Cortesi style of courtesy, Sunset continued to balance its growth with the needs of its shoppers.  1995 saw the expansion of the Northbrook location to provide a larger selection of “natural foods” in response to increasing health consciousness.  Extensive remodeling of the Highland Park store was completed in 1996 and the opening of a fourth store in the thriving community of Libertyville occurred in 1998.

In 2006, Sunset transitioned leadership of the company to third-generation family member John E. Cortesi, naming him President and CEO. Under John’s leadership, Sunset soon unveiled its fifth and most ambitious store in the picturesque Village of Long Grove. This location features many cutting-edge green initiatives including a reflective solar roof membrane, recycled building products, high-efficiency heating, cooling, lighting, flooring and siding. Complete with an extensive organic and gluten-free selection, a commitment to buying locally, a complimentary coffee bar and a fresh sushi bar, the store showcases the best of what Sunset has to offer.

Sunset’s future remains as bright as its remarkable past and so it is with great pleasure that we share with our family and friends in the momentous occasion of celebrating 75 years in business.

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