Top of the Line

Stew Leonard Jr. '77 runs a top-100 food company

by Robin Fostel


The man behind the name

Stew Leonard Jr. '77 grew up working in his family's dairy business. As a kid he would stand on a milk case to make ice cream, clean out day-old cream cans, and stock shelves. Today that business has annual sales of nearly $300 million, employs 2,000 people, and is about to open a fourth grocery store (in Farmingdale, New York, joining stores in Norwalk and Danbury, Connecticut, and Yonkers, New York). Its stores have been dubbed the "Disneyland of dairy stores" by the New York Times because of their amusement-park atmosphere, costumed characters, and animatronics. The company's philosophy is built around an acronym of Leonard's first name: Satisfy the customer, work together as a Team, strive for Excellence in everything you do, and get the customer to say 'Wow.' Customers aren't the only ones saying "wow"; for the second consecutive year Stew Leonard's was voted one of Fortune magazine's 100 best companies to work for in the United States.

This spring Ithaca College American Marketing Association students spent an afternoon at Stew Leonard’s store in Norwalk, meeting with Leonard and his management team. The visit included a tour of the boardroom, which has, one student pointed out, “James Bond–like multimedia equipment.”


While he is proud to be recognized, the company's CEO and president is quick to share the credit for his company's success. "What makes Stew Leonard's a great place to work is the family-caring atmosphere among our team members," says Leonard. "I believe with all my heart that if you take good care of your people, your people will take good care of your customers." The features that help his stores stand out include an in-store dairy plant where milk is packaged in front of customers, one continuous aisle that winds through the store, a "moms program" that provides working mothers with flexible hours, and a "director of wow" who sings and dances through the store. Customers have been doing their part to promote the store internationally since 1974 by posing with shopping bags from the store at various locations around the world. The collection of photographs, "bags around the world," is on display at the stores and on the company's website.

The first Stew Leonard's, in Norwalk, Connecticut


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A. Ozolins, Ithaca College Office of Publications, 28 October, 2003