The following is a transcript of a question and answer with Avi Kaner that has been edited for space and clarity.
NYJL: Could you describe to our readers what Morton Williams is in a sentence or two?
AK: Morton Williams Supermarkets is a family-owned and -operated chain primarily in Manhattan. We have a deep focus on fresh and prepared foods, and have chefs in most of our stores. Unlike traditional supermarkets, organic, all-natural, specialty and international foods are abundant in our stores.
NYJL: How did you get involved in the supermarket business?
AK: Our first store opened in the Bronx in 1952 under the name “Associated.” The chain evolved over the years to focus primarily on Manhattan neighborhoods. Our headquarters and hiring office is still in the Bronx, and we employ over 1,000 people from the Bronx. I joined the business after starting my career at Deloitte & Touche and Booz Allen Hamilton consulting. My wife, Liz, and I were about to have our second child and we sought less travel.
NYJL: What has been the most challenging part of running a supermarket in the metro area with constant new competition, including Amazon’s entering the marketplace through its recent purchase of Whole Foods?
AK: The cost of doing business in the city is staggering, in terms of rent, electricity, taxes and labor. The broad competition requires continuous investment in the business and staying up to date with new trends. Amazon/Whole Foods has a foothold in the city and it is a formidable competitor with deep pockets. Having said that, even Amazon doesn’t have a magic wand to reduce the cost of doing retail business in the city. Our chain is based here, instead of Austin, Texas [Whole Foods] or Seattle, Washington [Amazon], which gives us an advantage of knowing the pulse of our customers.
NYJL: In 2014, Morton Williams boycotted Turkish food products because of a rise in anti-Semitism in Turkey. How does your Jewish background help guide your business instincts and decision-making?
AK: Our boycott of Turkish products was directly attributable to statements and incitement by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, particularly during Israel’s war against the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza. The boycott was lifted after the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, although that relationship remains tense.
NYJL: Do you feel the rise of the BDS movement, or a growing anti-Israel sentiment in general, is changing the marketplace as it relates to Morton Williams or the broader food industry?
AK: We are proud to feature “Made in Israel” sections in our stores. We have received only praise from our customers, and the items sell very well. We are proud to not only support Israel, but to do so with actions in addition to words.
NYJL: Are you currently involved in any Jewish organizations or related issues?
AK: Our family is involved in a number of Jewish and Israel-related organizations including AIPAC, Chabad, FIDF, Hadassah Hospital and Technion University. Our focus over the past few years has been on “Innovation: Africa,” This organization utilizes Israeli electric and water innovations to provide water to the people of Africa. Various family members have traveled to Uganda to dedicate Morton Williams’ solar-powered water wells, each providing water to thousands of people.
NYJL: What is your favorite item of food at Morton Williams?
AK: I am proud of our prepared foods. Many of our offerings are restaurant quality, available at affordable prices. Busy Manhattan consumers are able to have a “home-cooked meal” at home, without having to prepare it themselves.
NYJL: Do you sell many kosher products?
AK: Many of the products we sell have kosher supervision stamps. We do offer kosher meat, poultry and cold cuts. Our stores’ Israel sections are kosher as well.
NYJL: Any upcoming sales you want to tip off our readers to?
AK: We literally have hundreds of items on sale every week. We send out a mass weekly email to our customers with the sale items. I encourage everyone to visit www.mortonwilliams.com and to like us on our new Facebook page.