1897: Saul Pillemer
Saul Pillemer leaves Riga, Latvia, at the age of 15 with eight gold coins stitched into his pocket destined for Canada, seeking opportunity. When Saul arrives in England to begin his journey overseas, with his limited grasp of the English language he mistakes Cape Town for Canada and boards a ship to South Africa. After arriving in Cape Town, Saul soon travels to Johannesburg, which is experiencing a boom due to the recent discovery of gold. Resourceful and creative, he buys a dozen eggs and resells them individually to turn a profit; he does this several times a day, and eventually diversifies beyond eggs.
1899: Saul’s Big Break
Saul’s big break comes when he secures a contract to sell potatoes to the Johannesburg General Hospital, and S. Pillemer (Pty.) Ltd. is established.
1910: The First Building
S. Pillemer purchases its first building conveniently located on a railway siding, allowing them easy access to sugar shipments from Durban; these efficiencies help Pillemer to grow and establish a name in the marketplace.
1949: 50 Year Anniversary
After 50 years in business, S. Pillemer prospers, and expands from being a small produce merchant to operating as a wholesale grocery distributor and general merchant. The Pillemer name is now recognized throughout South Africa.
1950s: Canned Products
S. Pillemer begins exploring import opportunities and starts to expand into canned products and salted fish.
1960s: The Next Generation
The next generation of the Pillemer family takes over, led by Saul’s daughter, Tillie Marks, and her nephew, Raymond Pillemer, and the company expands significantly. After moving to a much larger building and installing freezers, S. Pillemer shifts its focus to frozen and chilled products such as seafood, cheese, etc. and becomes the South African agent for Kraft Foods.
1976: Immigrating to Canada
After experiencing great success in South Africa, Saul’s grandchildren decide to explore new opportunities abroad; choosing to continue the journey that Saul began by immigrating to Canada. After arriving in Toronto, they open a company using the Pillemer Company brand name of Toppits. By leveraging the strong international relationships cultivated at S. Pillemer in South Africa, and the strength of the family name, they begin importing frozen products into Canada.
1983: Orange Roughy
While at the NFI Conference in Hawaii, Saul’s granddaughter, Heather Gremont, meets with New Zealand suppliers who are launching a new fish called Orange Roughy. With its mild flavour and beautiful white appearance, Heather recognizes that she has an exciting new specie to introduce to the Canadian market. As the first company to import the specie into Canada, Toppits develops a market and Orange Roughy becomes the hottest new fish on Canadian menus. This begins a long-standing relationship with New Zealand seafood suppliers, which will define Toppits for many years, bringing in products such as Greenshell Mussels, Arrow Squid, Blue Cod and Red Cod. Toppits grows alongside the developing New Zealand fisheries, and these relationships open up further opportunities.
1995: Fourth Generation
After completing his MBA, Heather’s son, Brandon Gremont joins Toppits in a procurement role, becoming the fourth generation family member in the business. To further his seafood knowledge, he spends time working on a factory trawler owned by a large New Zealand supplier and visits many seafood factories, receiving instruction in the processing and attributes of various seafood products.
1999: 100th Anniversary Gala
To celebrate its 100th anniversary, Toppits holds a gala black tie event. The lavish party hosts customers from across Canada and suppliers from around the world. Many family members travel to Canada to celebrate this landmark occasion.
2000: Frozen Cubes
At the Anuga Food Show in Cologne, Heather sees a unique product being showcased: frozen garlic and herb cubes. Her daughter, Sara Gremont, champions the product and builds brand recognition and customer demand, eventually expanding its distribution into many chains. Toppits cubes become a staple in many Canadian homes.
As a fourth generation family business and a Diversity Company (woman-owned), Toppits continues to grow with a move to a 75,000 square-foot facility, the launch of a newly designed website, and the creation of the “Think” Program, which outlines its core practices for building and maintaining a sustainable future.