UNITY — For the past 60 years, there has been one face shoppers have trusted with their groceries.
Frank Mann is one of the most recognized individuals in the community and grocery industry. He has seen many changes within the industry and the community, watching kids grow up and seeing them come back to visit with their own families.
Known as Frank Mann – The Man, he was born in 1945. Mann was fourth from the bottom of 14 siblings. His family made the move from Hodgeville, which is 97 kilometres southeast of Swift Current, to Unity in 1950 as Mann’s father became the new police chief for Unity that year. They lived in a house on 5th Avenue East and Mann recalled that he had to sleep with four other brothers in a bed.
Mann got his first job at the age of 13, stocking shelves at Park’s Bakery & Grocery with a young Harold Graham. The two became good friends while working together, but Mann had other plans for his future.
“I wanted to be a police officer, just like my dad. I was turned away because I was too short,” said Mann during an interview.
Mann went back to the grocery store business, becoming a relief manager at the OK Economy in Kindersley. At the age of 18, Mann was responsible for 32 staff members and a store with five checkouts. He made a dollar more per hour wage-wise but made more in the travel reimbursement for the summer. He would leave at 4:30 a.m. to open the store by 7 a.m.
In 1970, life changed for Mann as he met his wife, Barb, for the first time in Biggar.
“I didn’t work in Biggar, but Barb’s friend was the wife of a co-worker of mine from Wilkie. We all met up one night and we have been together for 54 years,” recalled Mann.
The young couple made Wilkie their home until the loss of their first child. The Manns decided to move back to Unity, where the opportunity to own a grocery store was waiting. Mann received some financial backing from a local business owner and Frank’s Fine Foods was in business.
Mann employed many local kids through Frank’s Fine Foods. Many of them remained in Unity, raising their own families over the years.
“I still remember when a young Stan Weber worked at Frank’s Fine Foods. He would watch Myrna Howdle across the street, who was working at the SAAN Store. Look at them now, still married with kids and grandkids,” Mann laughed.
Mann and his wife welcomed two children to their lives, Shelly and Derek, all while Mann was continuing his grocery career. Mann admitted that working in the grocery industry didn’t always pay well but the work was steady. Mann enjoyed interacting with the customers and getting to know everyone who came in.
Mann had many memories from over the years in the business. He was hired on as produce manager when Superior Foods opened in Wilkie and was asked to do something for the grand opening. With 100 cases of grapefruit, Mann built a boat in the produce section, which impressed everyone who came into the store.
But Mann was more than the grocery man. For 40 years, Mann owned and operated Stubbleland Outfitting and Kennels, where he bred and raised yellow, black and chocolate labs as hunting dogs and took out-of-town hunters on the land during hunting season. He was involved with Ducks Unlimited and even had the opportunity to sit beside Prince Phillip during a special banquet.
“The committee was at a loss who would sit beside him [Prince Phillip], so I volunteered. I was not afraid to talk to the man and nobody objected,” laughed Mann during the interview.
Mann was often sought out by grocery stores, looking for ways to improve the business. Mann had worked in Cut Knife, North Battleford, Saskatoon and even in Oliver, B.C. He and Barb loved to travel and were able to explore the country over the years.
With age, the couple started to slow down, which allowed Mann to go back to the grocery industry, but as a part-time employee. Mann was able to work and witness his long-time friend, Harold Graham, retire from the business at the Shop Easy in Unity.
“I was honoured to work with Harold in the beginning and at the end,” said Mann.
Over the years, Mann has seen many changes in the industry and not all for the good.
“A grocery store is not just a grocery store anymore. There is more junk food than there ever has been. I have always told my customers, if the price is too high, don’t buy it. We should consider ourselves lucky we even have a lot of the produce we have because of importing it.
“The two most important departments in a grocery store are your produce and meat departments. They make the store, everything else is cans. For those who are looking to save money, make a list and shop the flyers. People can save a lot by doing that,” explained Mann.
In September 2023, Mann was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He knew the disease was common in the family and went for his first surgery on Oct. 5.
“I tell every man I know and see, go get tested. It could very well save your life,” he urged.
Since his diagnosis, Mann has had to stop working part-time. He has seen the decline in the local stores and gives him the urge to start fixing things.
“I have seen how management is failing the staff members. No staff or training doesn’t help anyone. There is also very little inventory. That is what will take care of the customers,” he said.
Mann is still undergoing treatment and is hoping to return to part-time work once he has recovered. In the meantime, he is eagerly waiting for the snow to melt so he can hop on his scooter, looking for bottles along the way.
“I was already told I could work at the Cut Knife AG Foods when I am better, so I have that to look forward to,” said Mann.