One-on-One with Meg Major
It’s a pleasure to welcome you to Endcap,
Jungle. Long before grocery stores were
being urged to enhance the in-store
experience and showcase theater, you
were a visionary of both. What galvanized
your inspiration for your iconoclastic
approach to food retailing?
Bonaminio: I did some crazy things along
the way, but it’s always just been the way
my mind works.
As one of the most fiercely independent
retailers on the planet, your “foodieland”
stores are unambiguous labors of love
that embody the top traits of a visionary
entrepreneur. Looking back on your
journey, which trait do you feel has
served you best, and why?
The love of the game is by far the most
important thing. It’s certainly not the
money—which is the byproduct of loving
the game. When I played baseball [at
Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, on a
scholarship to play], we had a pretty good
team, and one year whipped our opponents
something like 11-1. We’re driving back
on the bus, and everybody is all rah-rah,
cheering and full of themselves. I spoke
up and said, “I’d rather lose to the topnotch team by two than beat a weak team
by 10.” I’ve always liked going up against
the big boys.
I recall visiting your Fairfield store early
in my career and remember thinking
that without your uncanny curator skills,
Jungle Jim’s would cease to be. Is this a
That’s exactly right. I don’t want to bust
anybody’s bubble, but I’m a businessman.
Food just happens to be my commodity. I
hire people who have a passion, and then
we build it. I’m also a marketer who looks
for ways to make selling the most basic of
things fun, like the crazy wine store I built.
I don’t know one wine from the next, but
I added my craziness to it, and what do
you know? I’m probably one of the biggest
sellers of wine and beer in Ohio and the
Your stores’ vast array of international
foods, which include about 50,000
products from 75 countries, seem
to fly in the face of your unabashed
“nonfoodie” reputation. What led
you to feature international foods so
I’ve always pursued challenges. After
having had success selling produce, deli and
other traditional grocery products, I wanted
to know what else was out there that was
more challenging, and where could I get
burned. There’s not a lot of action in selling
the same things everyone else is selling. In
the early days of my little produce market,
I had an Asian clerk whom I challenged to
show me what other vegetables he thought
we should sell besides the “usuals” like
celery, carrots, broccoli and Brussels
sprouts. He said bok choy and asked for a
5-foot section. I told him to go for it and see
what happened. That was my introduction
to Asian vegetables. The same thing
happened with Indian food, and all of [our]
countries, for that matter.
As Jungle Jim’s approaches its 45th
anniversary, is there anything you might
have done differently if given a chance?
I should have gone into the real estate
business instead of the grocery business.
Had I done so, you’d be talking to me right
now on my private jet while I’m getting my
You were quoted as saying, “We’re always
trying to make Jungle Jim’s better ... so
I’m always striving, and I’ll probably die
trying. I’m always thinking about the
future.” What has been on your mind
most at the start of 2019?
Two things, the first of which I thought I
would never, ever say, which is that the IT
department is probably one of the biggest—
if not the biggest—areas independent grocers
can no longer overlook. You can’t be in
a fight without giving yourself the best
chance of staying in the ring. The second
thing is: If anybody in the grocery business
has a crazy idea that’s falling on deaf ears,
gimme a call.
Do you believe in fate?
100%. I’m also a big believer in
“Jungle” Jim Bonaminio is
founder and CEO of Jungle Jim’s
International Market, which has
two stores in Cincinnati and
What’s your favorite day of the week?
Monday, because I’m off on Sundays and
it drives me crazy not to work.
What superpower would you most
like to have? To be young, single and in
Name one person you admire and
why. Margaret Thatcher. She was the
Iron Lady of Britain and a fantastic leader.
Read the full conversation at WinsightGroceryBusiness.com.