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Rabba Fine Foods elevates convenience with Paramount partnership

In an interview with Convenience Store News Canada, Rick Rabba shares insights into how Rabba Fine Foods becomes a part of the neighbourhoods it serves, lessons learned from COVID and the values his father taught him about operating a successful business

Photos by Daniel Alexander

Photos by Daniel Alexander

It seems to have been Rick Rabba’s destiny to work in the convenience/grocery retail business. Even as a youngster, cleaning cooler doors, packing groceries and working the cash register at his family’s store in downtown Toronto, he felt it would be his future. He was 100% right. Today, Rabba is president of Rabba Fine Foods with 34 (soon to be 35) locations in neighbourhoods across the GTA. 

His family were Palestinian immigrants who came to Canada in 1966 with little money. His mother worked at the University of Toronto library and his father got a job at a restaurant, then a hotel and a convenience store. “It’s the classic immigrant story,” says Rabba. “By saving and denying himself any sort of luxury, my dad was able to put a down payment on a house and rented out part of it. I have so much respect for him.”

By 1967, Rabba’s father had scraped together enough money to buy a convenience store at 37 Charles Street West and called it Variety Food Fair. It was where Rick would work alongside his grandfather, who managed the business, and learn about customers wanted from their local convenience store and how to evolve according to their needs, like adding deli foods and fresh produce. 

Rick continued to work to grow his skills. “As I got older, I took on more and more roles,” he recalls. “It got to the point where there isn’t one in the organization I haven’t done in some capacity. I could gladly serve you on the cash register today and tell you the PLU [price look-up code] for bananas.”

He went on to attend university, but he always knew he’d go back to his roots. “I always wanted to improve the family business,” he says. “That has always been a strong passion of mine. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-22 at 5.34.51 PMA major shift happened in the 1980s as their stores began to stock more groceries and fresh produce. In 1987, all Variety Food Fairs became Rabba Fine Foods with the first store under that brand opening near Queen’s Quay. 

While it would have been easier to roll out the new convenience/grocery store hybrid concept uniformly across all Rabba Fine Foods locations, that approach did not jibe with the company’s principles—to serve local communities and to honour the diversity and uniqueness of each. “We don’t have a single location I would call a cookie-cutter store,” says Rabba. “We customize based on the physical realities of the location we’re working in, whether it’s underneath a condominium building or a stand-alone. Over time, we learn what items customers in that neighbourhood are looking for, based on their lifestyle or ethnicity.”

Photos by Daniel Alexander

Photos by Daniel Alexander

That could mean offering Middle Eastern for an Arabic community, hard dough bread for a Jamaican one, or grab-and-go meals in areas with a lot of offices. It’s a process of constant pivoting as needed. Fortunately, Rabba Fine Foods is cohesive enough to allow that to happen fairly quickly. Rick credits his ace head office team, who can source items store operators say customers are asking for.

Pivoting with finesse has become a coveted skill in 2020 with the pandemic challenging business-as-usual norms. Rabba Fine Foods has done well during COVID since they are open seven days a week and 24 hours a day. “We are very proud that we’ve remained open throughout COVID because we are here to serve our communities,” Rabba says. “We recognize, especially during lockdowns and times when other retailers have restricted their shopping hours, that our community needs us.”

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He has noticed a significant change. “Customers are using us more like a grocery store these days, and less like a convenience store. We are making sure we are well-stocked on more dry goods than in the past, including toilet paper, pasta, and rice. Once the pandemic has subsided, I think people will resume using us as a convenience store again, as well as a grocery store.”

 The company is getting ready to pivot again. It already has a partnership with Tim Hortons and this month it opened its ninth Tim Horton’s counter, at its Lakeshore Boulevard West location in Etobicoke.

In December, Rabba announced it had joined forces with Paramount Fine Foods, a well-known restaurant group, to rebuild Rabba’s in-store prepared foods menu. Rabba Kitchen by Paramount will debut at the chain’s newest store, which is slated to open this year at the base of a condo tower in Toronto’s revitalized Regent Park neighbourhood. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-22 at 3.34.36 PMBuilding on the Paramount partnership, Rabba Fine Foods on February 8 debuted a Paramount Butcher counter inside its Meadowvale Town Centre Circle location in Mississauga, Ont. Described as a “scaled-down version” of a Paramount restaurant, the innovative offering features take-home menu items from the Middle Eastern restaurant chain, as well as Halal poultry and deli options, complemented by an assortment of Paramount dips and spreads.

“Our business is in a constant state of flux and we’re happy to find in Paramount Fine Foods a partner that is nimble and, at the same time, committed to quality products and service,” Rabba said in a release following the announcement. “We’re determined to help our customers in whatever way we can and expanding this partnership with Paramount is an example of that commitment.”

The company told Convenience Store News Canada it plans to roll out the concept in other stores in its network.

“It’s something we’re doing to cater to our neighbourhoods,” adds Rabba. “We are offering home meal replacements, fresh produce, organic foods, and interesting items to create a bit of excitement.”

Screen Shot 2021-02-22 at 5.35.07 PMAll Rabba locations offer valued popular brands like Heinz and Kraft, but where they can really shine in with the smaller names, like Owl & Goose, a Toronto company offering raw and unpasteurized smoothies and juices. It’s part of an effort to differentiate themselves from the big box retailers and also to support local businesses. Rabba Fine Foods is one, too—Canadian owned and operated, with deep roots in Toronto. That’s something Rabba has never forgotten. 

The company gives back to the communities that support it through Rabba Roots. It has hosted a Super Bowl event for Covenant House and Good Shepherd shelter for the homeless and vulnerable, and donated thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer to the Peel Children’s Aid Society. 

“We’re part of the community,” Rabba explains. “We feel the need to support the community that we are serving. We feel it’s reasonable and responsible because we are all in it together.”


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Rabba opens in-store Paramount Butcher counter

Screen Shot 2021-02-22 at 3.34.36 PMBuilding on a partnership first announced last year, Rabba Fine Foods has launched the Paramount Butcher counter inside its Meadowvale Town Centre Circle location in Mississauga, Ont. The counter officially opened on Feb. 8.

Rabba Fine Foods describes it as a “scaled-down version” of a Paramount restaurant, featuring take-home menu items from the Middle Eastern restaurant chain. It also includes Halal poultry and deli options, complemented by an assortment of Paramount dips and spreads.

“Our business is in a constant state of flux and we’re happy to find in Paramount Fine Foods a partner that is nimble and, at the same time, committed to quality products and service,” said Rabba Fine Foods CEO Rick Rabba in a release. “We’re determined to help our customers in whatever way we can and expanding this partnership with Paramount is an example of that commitment.”

Paramount launched its Paramount Butcher Shop division in 2012 and started expanding the concept throughout the U.S. and Canada in 2015, followed by entry into the Middle Eastern and European markets in 2016. It describes its offering as a blend of “premium cut meats to go with premium quality restaurant recipes from the Paramount Fine Foods restaurants.”

The latest announcement comes after Rabba announced in December it was partnering with Paramount to open a prepared food offering called Rabba Kitchen — By Paramount in its upcoming location, its 35th, in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood. The company said it plans to roll out the concept in other stores in its network.

Speaking with Canadian Grocer at the time, Rabba president Rick Rabba said the new concepts arose out the “close, congenial” relationship that exists between the two companies.

Rabba also announced this month it opened a Tim Hortons counter, its ninth, at its Lakeshore Boulevard West location in Etobicoke. “We’re happy any time we can expand our offering to improve the service we provide neighbours,” said Rabba.

Read CSNC’s interview with Rick Rabba, who shares insights into how Rabba Fine Foods becomes a part of the neighbourhoods it serves, lessons learned from COVID and the values his father taught him about operating a successful business.


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Rabba’s new store will feature a menu developed with Paramount Fine Foods

Rabba Kitchen by Paramount will feature the best of both brands, says Rabba Fine Foods president Rick Rabba

RABBA-KITCHEN-BY-PARAMOUNT-RENDERING-copy-1-300x138Rabba Fine Foods and Middle Eastern restaurant chain Paramount Fine Foods are creating a bespoke prepared food offering for the grocery chain’s newest store in Toronto’s Regent Park neighbourhood, set to open next year.

Rabba Fine Foods president Rick Rabba said the new offering, which will be formally known as Rabba Kitchen by Paramount, is the product of a long-standing relationship between the two companies.

“We’ve always had this close, congenial relationship with each other, and there has been discussion in the past about how we might work together, and we were recently able to come up with this concept that works for everybody,” said Rabba. “We’re excited that we’re finally able to capitalize on this relationship.”

Rabba said the two companies are working together to “completely revamp” the in-store prepared foods menu. The menu is still in development, he said, but will feature “the classics” that Paramount and Rabba customers know and love, as well as “new and exciting” elements inspired by Paramount’s chefs.

“We’re relying on them for their recipe, menu and operational guidance and expertise,” he said. “It won’t strictly be a Paramount restaurant, and it won’t be the Rabba offering, it will be a completely new offering that benefits from the expertise and strengths of both companies.”

While Rabba Fine Foods has existing partnerships in place with QSR chains including Subway and Tim Hortons, Rabba said the new model was different because it does not employ a “plug-and-play” approach.

“This is much more of a complementary relationship…that takes advantage of the best of both brands,” he said. “This is significantly different from taking a quick-service restaurant franchise and installing it in a Rabba store.”

The store, Rabba’s 35th, is a new build in a condo tower at the corner of River and Dundas streets in Toronto’s revitalized Regent Park neighbourhood. It uses Rabba’s familiar small urban grocer format, catering to urbanites with a busy lifestyle and seeking reliable, well-known brands at reasonable prices, said Rabba.

Originally published at Canadian Grocer. 


A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

Rabba installs glass barriers at checkout

A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

Rabba Fine Foods is installing countertop glass barriers that aim to offer maximum protection for both cashiers and customers.

Rabba. which operates local market and convenience stores in more than 34 neighbourhoods in the central and western parts of the GTA, began installing the protective barrier on Sunday and aims to have installation complete across the chain by Wednesday. Its store are open year-round, 24 hours a day.

“We are doing everything we can to stay open for our customers and, at the same time, to increase their safety and comfort while in our stores,” says Rick Rabba, president of Rabba Fine Foods, a family-run business with roots that go back to 1967.

The chain is posting in its stores educational signs and messages from local health authorities.

These latest initiatives are part of a broader pandemic-defence campaign  that has included an increase in disinfecting and sanitization of stores, introduction of gloves and hand-sanitizers for staff and education for staff and customers about proper hygiene, social distancing and staying at home when experiencing any symptoms.

“We have been working 24/7 in an effort to source quality products, bring them to our stores quickly and to keep them fairly priced,” says Rabba. “I could not be more proud of the Rabba team and express my gratitude to them, as well as our store managers, for their resilience during these times.”


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Rick Rabba to deliver keynote at 2020 OCSA Gala

The Board of Directors of the OCSA unveiled the keynote speaker for the 2020 OCSA Gala, which takes place at the end of day one of The Convenience U CARWACS show.

Screen Shot 2020-01-14 at 12.09.56 PMRick Rabba, president of Rabba Fine Foods and CJR Wholesale, will speak at the networking event.

The OCSA’s 17th Annual Gala is Tuesday March 3rd at 5:00 p.m. at the Toronto Congress Centre.

According to the OCSA, “7-11, Rabba Fine Foods, Hasty Markets, Quickie Convenience Stores, Gateway Newstands, Little Short Stop Stores, Avondale Food Stores, Kitchen Food Fair, Nicholbys, OKBA and many more category managers and executives” will attend.

Gala tickets are available now.

For more about The Convenience U CARWACS show – Canada’s largest convenience, gas and car wash industry event – visit the website and register today.