Specialty store's focus on people and products — not just dollars — has made it a mainstay in Stark County for nearly 60 years.
When a good thing gets rolling, it's tough to stop.
Since 1961, Canton Importing Co. has been a reliable resource for authentic Greek, Italian and Mediterranean foods.
The store is set up perfectly to keep rolling, and it's showing no signs of stopping.
Sam Regas immigrated to the U.S. from Greece at age 23 when his uncle, George Regas, was part owner of the Golden Pheasant restaurant downtown.
Sam worked odd jobs before opening Canton Importing Co. next to the Golden Pheasant. In 1972, the store moved to 1136 Wertz Ave. NW in Canton, where is still stands today.
Nick Regas, Sam's son, grew up in the business, bought the store in 1994 and runs day-to-day operations. Sam still comes into the store to help out.
"At 87, my dad works hard," Nick said. "He's not just making appearances."
As with many small businesses, Canton Importing is a family affair. Nick's mother, Pat, his wife, Jen, and his children, Kate and Sam, all lend a hand when needed.
Cindy Jackson is the store's only full time employee who's not a family member. She's made an impact on the business in many ways, including through its Facebook presence.
During busy times — especially around the holidays — up to eight people are brought in to help staff the store.
"Sometimes we'll have a line of 10 to 15 people at the deli counter, all day long," Nick said. "The lines can stretch out the front door for phyllo dough."
Friends from the neighborhood roll up their sleeves to help out when there's heavy lifting to do.
"When these guys see a semi-truck pull up to the store, they come over to see if we need a hand," Nick said.
Canton Importing offers a variety of meats, cheeses, extra virgin olive oil, Greek candies and baked goods, and other specialty products.
Nick said the store's bread and butter is cheeses, olive oils and wines.
"I may not look like a wine connoisseur," Nick said. "But I've visited Willamette Valley in Oregon, Napa Valley in California, and some other popular wine destinations."
The store carries wines from these regions and some great Romanian wines as well.
On the wall in the wine section is a Wall Street Journal article about wine. A customer brought it in and asked Nick to find those wines. Nick did just that.
"I'm often finding good wines for our customers," Nick said.
Mythos beer from Greece is by far Canton Importing's best-selling beer.
During a tour, Nick pointed out a wooden barrel containing feta cheese imported from Greece. He opened it to offer a rich, creamy and delicious taste. The store also offers feta from France, Bulgaria and the U.S.
Nick said the customer base has changed over the past 25 years.
"Our customers used to be mostly Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern immigrants," Nick said. "But the popularity of The Food Network has changed that."
As more and more people were exposed to TV shows about the delicious delicacies of the Mediterranean region, the popularity of Canton Importing grew as well.
"There's been an ongoing increase in demand for imported foods," Nick said. "We've seen a boost in sales because of it."
While many local residents shop at the store, about 50 percent of Canton Importing's business is wholesale.
Large wholesale customers include The Desert Inn in Canton, MID'S True Sicilian Pasta Sauce in Navarre and Ken Stewart's Grille in Akron.
"I used to put on a necktie and bang on doors," Nick said. "Not anymore. New customers call on us. Willow Bistro recently called and became a customer."
Nick is looking to survive, but not stroke out.
"I've never been in business for the money," Nick said. "It's about the people we've gotten to know and the relationships we've been able to develop."
Nick decided to go full bore into the family business when he and Jen went to out to dinner at a fancy Pittsburgh restaurant in 1989.
"I saw many of the products we were selling were starting to become more mainstream," Nick said. "That's when I knew it was the right decision."
Thirty years later, Nick is certain he did the right thing.
"We're seeing new generations of families coming into the store," Nick said. "I see adults coming in now who I knew as young children. That's great to see."
As long as Canton Importing Co. continues its focus on great products and taking care of the locals, future generations in Stark County will help keep this good thing rolling right along.