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Robinson Family Foods offers local flavour and cozy charm

Through three generations, a small town grocery, Robinson Family Foods, has served the Norquay community since the 1950s

NORQUAY - There is often something undeniably special about stepping into a small-town grocery store, hearing the ring of the bell on the door, and chatting with the friendly butcher about which cut of meat would be ideal for a special occasion or a Sunday roast.

And that is exactly what locals have come to know through the longstanding Robinson Family Foods in Norquay. Owned and operated by Lorne Robinson for the past 40 years, the shop has been in the family for three generations. The business was originally started in the 1950s by Lorne’s grandfather, Lee Robinson along with his wife, Agnes. The store was then passed down to his son, Norman Robinson who was married to Olga. The third generation to run the store is currently Lorne and his wife, Colleen.

“My dad taught me how to cut meat,” explained Robinson. “I had no intention of taking over the store. I was just a young punk and I had different plans for my life. But I also had bills that needed paying, so the working at the store became a way to do that.”

It took a while, but Robinson said his dad eventually convinced him to study retail meat cutting at the Kelsey Technical Institute in Saskatoon.

“My dad told me ‘you’ll never get rich at this, but you won’t starve’ – and he was right,” recalled Robinson.

Along with his wife, Colleen, a recently retired school teacher, the Robinson’s are parents to two daughters – Allison and Abby. With Allison in her fourth year of university on the road to becoming a teacher, it is up to Abby – who just stepped into Grade 12 – to help out at the store after school when she wants to earn some spending money.

Over the years, the grocery store has partnered with a number of different suppliers. Although the same family was steering the ship in Norquay, Robinson said the transition resulted in various names changes over the years. The original name for the store in the 1950s was “Norquay Locker Plant.” It would go on to also be known as: Parkland Food Store, IGA, Food Town, and finally, Robinson Family Foods.

“When I was a kid, we used to have all kinds of sales reps come to the store. They came from companies like Burns, Maple Leaf, Schneider’s, and Olympic Meats,” shared Robinson. “Now, nobody comes around. Things have really shifted for the small town grocers. Today, we need those suppliers way more than they need us.”

Robinson recalled the height of the retail shortages that quickly followed the COVID-19 global shut-down.

“It felt like the shortages came overnight. Suddenly people were desperate to find toilet paper and yeast. In our history at this store, we’ve never run out of yeast. Our dairy delivery driver said he had never run out of milk until COVID. It really shows you the potential of small town business.”

Robinson said his family has always been appreciative of the support over the years from the local community and he strives to take good care of his loyal customers.

“We really try to stock the store with as much variety as we can to help reduce the need to have to make trips out of town. And sometimes we even get people from out of town who are passing through and decide to stop in for special items. One example is potato sausage. I still use my dad’s old recipe – and people love it. The tradition comes from Norway or Sweden and was most often served at Christmas. The idea of mixing potato into sausages came from those tough times when there wasn’t a lot of food. For some, tasting the sausage is like bringing back something from their childhood.”