A Family Tradition

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Being a mother to three sons—all under the age of 5—and helping run a successful long-standing business alongside her family members may seem crazy to some, but to Kelley Russo-Follett of Russo's International Market, this is her norm.

Kelley and her family strive to continue her great-grandfather's legacy of providing homemade international cuisine and Italian offerings to the Grand Rapids community.

When did you first start working at Russo's International Market? What have been your jobs at the store throughout the years?

I've been working at Russo's my entire life. My father instilled a strong work ethic in each of us and taught us to never take anything for granted. Being a family-owned and -operated business, we all wear a lot of hats. From managing day-to-day operations to shoveling the snow out front, my family and I do what we need to do to ensure that the store is a success. We work as a team, with the same goals in mind.

How has your family reinvented G.B. Russo & Son—now Russo's International Market—in the past, and how do you continue to reinvent your store today?

My great grandfather, Giovanni Battista, started his business with a small store and a cart full of Italian groceries that he would set out at Ramona Park in East Grand Rapids. From there, he opened a pasta factory, dance hall, café and more. My grandfather Frank opened Grand Rapids' very first pizzeria. We've moved locations and rebranded a few times, yet continue to offer the same exceptional products and customer service. We also remodeled our current store in 2008, doubling our size and selection.

This year we are celebrating our 112th anniversary with exciting new offerings and services. We've rebranded from G.B. Russo & Son to Russo's International Market, began offering a new and incredibly delicious lunch menu, provide statewide delivery service for wine and nonperishable foods, and are offering free delivery on orders over $100 within the Grand Rapids area. In-store we have spectacular savings and giveaways going on. We also will be announcing a really exciting new project later this year.

Where do you see the importance in reinventing yourself?

We brought Italian cuisine to Grand Rapids. When immigrants were homesick, it was my great-grandfather's mission to make them feel more at home here by providing them with the best Italian foods in town. The best ingredients create the best recipes and thus the best experiences. We will continue to do this as time goes on.

Why do you think people should shop local, opposed to going to chain retailers or larger corporations?

Keep your money in your community. Small and local businesses provide amazing customer service, and shopping local supports families within the community. This has sustained our town and, with your help, it will continue for generations to come.

What does the West Michigan community mean to the Russo family? On the opposing side, what do you think Russo's International Market means to the West Michigan community?

"Voi siete la nostra famiglia." Meaning: You are our family. You have supported us, loved us and cooked with us for 112 years. We have been a delizioso part of your family gatherings and events for over a century, and we cannot thank you enough for welcoming us into your homes.

We are a family tradition within the West Michigan community. Russo's International Market is a delizioso, staple ingredient in family gatherings.

When your great-grandfather first started Russo's, neighborhood markets were the norm. Since then, large corporations have taken precedence, but neighborhood markets are re-emerging. What do you think the importance of a neighborhood market is? What's the role of a neighborhood market?

Personal, knowledgeable and friendly service. That is what most large corporations seem to lack and what we take pride in. We know what we sell, what our customers desire and we strive to do the best we can to accommodate all requests, large or small. In addition, small, local markets are what sustain our community. We take pride in being one.

How do you balance being a mom and part of a family-owned business? Can you describe your day-to-day?

The word balance has seemed to omit itself from my vocabulary these days. But the key is to embrace the chaos and do the best you can. My children know that they are unconditionally loved and my family at the store knows that we are all in it for the same reason—to continue our family legacy by serving the West Michigan community with quality food and wine.

Was there ever a time when you thought of leaving Russo's International Market? Or have you ever left Russo's International Market? 

I've worked here my entire life. I admire my father for keeping our family tradition alive and I planned on always being a part of that, whether part or full time. At the end of college, I became full time, and I am absolutely honored to work with my family.

For more information on Russo's International Market array of product offerings, visit russosgr.com.

Contributed by Emma Thibault, Public Relations Coordinator at 834 Design & Marketing, West Michigan transplant, avid social media user and dog lover.

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