Stew Leonard Sr., founder of the Stew Leonard’s grocery store chain has died at the age of 93, according to a notice on the Stew Leonard’s website. A resident of Westport, Conn., Leonard passed away on April 26 at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital following a brief illness.
Born in Norwalk, Conn., in 1929, Leonard started out working for his family’s dairy business, but by the late 1960s, he had decided to open a retail dairy store where kids could watch milk being bottled while parents shopped in a farmer’s market atmosphere. In December 1969, the first Stew Leonard’s location made its debut, a 17,000 square-foot-store carrying just eight items.
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Today, Stew Leonard’s is a $600 million family-owned and -operated business with seven stores and more than 2,500 employees. The company is currently run by Stew’s son, Stew Leonard Jr., with help from his siblings. Five of Leonard’s grandchildren have also joined the business, including COO Jake Tavello. One of Leonard’s favorite pastimes throughout his life was to stand at a Stew Leonard’s store entrance to greet customers, often by name. He was also a noted philanthropist.
In 1993, Leonard was sentenced to 52 months in federal prison for tax evasion, an experience he later addressed in his 2009 memoir.
According to the family, the memorial service and burial will be private, with a celebration of life to take place at a later date. Donations in Leonard’s memory may be made to the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation, an organization founded after the drowning death of his grandson in 1989, which helps to fund swimming lessons for children. Cards to the family can be sent to 100 Westport Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06851.
In addition to his wife of 70 years, Marianne Guthman Leonard, and their four children, Leonard’s survivors include 13 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.