Skip to content

Legendary Sault butcher looking for prime person to buy his shop

Owner of Bruni’s Fine Foods isn’t ready to retire just yet; his goal is to find a buyer who will continue to operate popular Wellington Street West location as a butcher shop

One of the Sault’s most beloved butcher shops is up for sale — but the owner isn’t planning on hanging up his apron just yet.

“I have my aches and pains, but it’s not the end,” says 71-year-old Lou Bruni, the friendly longtime owner of Bruni’s Fine Foods on Wellington Street West.

Currently listed by EXIT Realty for $499,900, Bruni’s has prided itself on providing quality meats, cheeses, deli products, and other specialty foods for well over four decades.

Whether he owns the building or not down the road, Bruni’s goal is to keep the store in operation so long as a future buyer continues to use it as a butcher shop.

“It’s only on the market because of my want to take some time off — not because I don’t like what I do,” he told SooToday. “This is my 44th year on my own in business and I don’t want to sell the building and not have some kind of butcher shop going on.”

“There’s so few of us left, and we’re the only ones in town that have a smokehouse.”

Born in southern Italy, Bruni moved to Sault Ste. Marie in 1956 when he was five years old with his mother and grandmother. His dad had moved here five years earlier, in 1951.

Growing up in the city's Steelton neighbourhood, Bruni’s journey in the food business began at his great-uncle Rico’s Steelton Meat and Fish (now Paesano Foods) when he was just 14 years old.

“Of course, there was no allowance back then, so if you wanted any money you’d have to go work,” he says. “I started as a cleanup kid for Steelton.”

When he turned 19, Bruni was hired at the Dominion grocery store in the Churchill Plaza (now Metro) and worked there for five years. He also ran the former farmers market across from the Highland Ford dealership.

The experience he gained as an up-and-coming butcher led him to open up the Butcher’s Block on Second Line West in 1979. He moved across the street 10 years later and rebranded the business as Bruni’s Butcher’s Block.

After spending nearly 30 years on Second Line West, Bruni sold the shop in 2007 and opened up Bruni’s Fine Foods in 2008 on Wellington Street West, where he’s been ever since.

“I’ve had customers and people with me for all 44 years,” he says. “The kids that used to come in with their moms and dads are now our customers. Their kids are coming in for the suckers that I gave them years and years ago. That’s really touching when you see them.”

But over the years, Bruni has witnessed many local stores, butcher shops, and family-run businesses fold — either because the owners aged out, or they were overrun by major brand names.

“We’re still here because of the ability to work and analyze yourself,” he says. “We’ve made mistakes, but it’s how you accept them and bounce back. Thankfully, the customers have been loyal to us through good and bad.”

“Sault Ste. Marie wasn’t built on Canadian Tires and Metros,” he adds. “It was based on the corner butcher shop on James Street, or the butcher shop in Steelton. It was families.”

Recognizing the wilting butcher shop industry as a sign of the times, Bruni says it has been a challenge to find a new butcher to take over his store.

“Nobody wants to come into our trade to keep it going anymore,” he says. “Lots of people want to be a chef, but nobody wants to be a butcher or a meat cutter.”

“I think this is where a young person would really prosper because they’d come in with new ideas, and I’d insist on helping them — provided they’d want me.”

While running his store, Bruni has witnessed the steel plant drop from 13,000 workers to 3,000, he’s fought his way out of several economic crises, and of course, most recently navigated a pandemic that kept everyone inside their homes.

With no choice but to adapt with the times, Bruni says he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“It’s been a lifetime of pleasure,” he says. “My commitment is the same today, if not more. I’m probably working as hard today as I was 20 years ago. Maybe I don’t lift as much as I used to. But it’s about the joy of producing products that are unique to us that make people happy.”

Operating the only approved smokehouse in the city, Bruni notes there are several businesses — big and small — who have come to depend on it.

“I want to see that smokehouse continue,” he says. “It’s a necessary part of places like the Breakfast Pig and CJ’s Dehydrated Products. As long as I’m able to, and I’m healthy at this point in time, we’ll stay open until someone comes along who wants to run a butcher shop with a smokehouse in it.”

When asked what he’ll miss the most when his retirement day eventually comes, Bruni doesn't hesitate. “It’s the people,” he says. “The work is just the sideline. As everybody gets older and we lose our lifers, and their families get smaller, that’s the part you miss.”

With tears in his eyes, the Italian butcher says it’s hard to believe how quickly the years have gone by.

“Time — it’s just been one year after the other.”

— SooToday