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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 22, 2004 17 years ago

Sold on Service

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The Argus Foundation is honoring Ted Morton, former owner of Mortonis Market, with a Lifetime Achievement Award for nearly 50 years in Sarasota business.

Sold on Service

The Argus Foundation is honoring Ted Morton, former owner of Mortonis Market, with a Lifetime Achievement Award for nearly 50 years in Sarasota business.

By Sean Roth

Real Estate Editor

When the Morton family first moved to Sarasota, Tamiami Trail was a two-lane road, the city had maybe 14,000 residents and the i57 Chevy was still six years away. Since then, the family and the independent grocery business it has run for more than 50 years has left a legacy with its longevity and vibrancy.

On Nov. 4, The Argus Foundation will honor the family patriarch, E. W. iTedi Morton, with its Lifetime Achievement Award. Called a ilightning rod for the business communityi by Bill Klich, Florida president of BB&T Corp., Morton is far from an unknown name in Sarasota business.

Klich, who came to Sarasota in 1990, met Morton when he was working for Coast Bank, and Morton was a bank director.

iFirst off he was successful in his primary business,i says Klich. iBut in many ways heis better known for getting the right people together.i

Morton first got his start in the food business as a salesman for National Biscuit Co., better known as Nabisco, in Tampa. In 1951, he transferred to Sarasota. After he arrived, Morton found Easter Seals/Happiness House, a special school for handicapped children, to assist one of his three sons Kenny, who has cerebral palsy.

Shortly thereafter, Nabisco asked Morton to move either to Jacksonville or Miami. Faced with having to find another special needs school for his son, Morton resigned from Nabisco and took a job as a grocery buyer working for a local client Marable at the independent grocery store Marableis Market.

By 1954, Morton was promoted to general manger. During the late i50s and early i60s, Morton helped Marable set up two smaller grocery stores called Simple Sam on U.S. 41 in Manatee County and at Osprey Avenue and Siesta Drive.

iIt was great. I loved the grocery business,i Morton says. iWe carried everything. It didnit matter what people wanted if we didnit have it we ordered it.i

In many ways Morton got his first experience with the grocery business during the heyday of small independent stores. The first grocery chain, a Publix Super Market, didnit open in Sarasota until 1956.

In 1969, faced with steadily declining health, Marable sold the store to Morton. iHe had a son at college who didnit want the store because he knew the hours,i Morton says. iMr. Marable gave me a great deal because I didnit have much money to put down.i

Morton also brought on his oldest son, Eddie, to learn the business.

In 1971, Morton hit on an innovation that o although widely duplicated o led to large growth in the grocery business, a delicatessen for hot meals and gourmet snacks. By 1997, the deli department and prepared food had grown to 25% of the storeis total revenue.

In 1976, after repeated customer questions and with the blessing of Marableis widow, Morton changed the name of the grocery to Mortonis Market. By this point, the store was truly a family business. Morton had been joined by his sons: Eddie, Kenny and Denny and his wife, Pauline. In fact, Eddie, Ted Mortonis oldest son was so involved in the business that in 1988, Morton made Eddie president of the company.

iWe were one of the largest stores in Sarasota at the time (about 16,000 square feet),i Morton says. iWe adjusted our hours according to the hospital. We got a lot of our customers from there.i

In 1995, Morton opened a smaller grocery store called Eddieis Beneva Market at Bahia Vista and Beneva Road, but low revenue and an illness in the management team forced Morton to close it.

Then on Feb. 6, 1997 o Ted Mortonis birthday o the Morton family sold the grocery store to an investment company owned by Riscorp Chairman Bill Griffin. Family members still operate the store.

Morton also found time to join and serve on several business and community organizations including: the Sarasota County Chamber of Commerce, Gulf Coast Kiwanis Club, The Argus Foundation, University Club, Sarasota Yacht Club, Sarasota Sports Committee and the Florida Heart Association.

He has been a member of the board for Ellis American Bank, Coast Federal and SunTrust Bank, Sarasota.

One of the things that Ham Jones, chairman of the board at Ludwig-Walpole Insurance Agency, found particularly interesting about Ted Morton was his baggers o which Morton called assistants to the cashier. Past bag boys include: Ken Bailey with RBC Centura; Chuck Floyd, an executive vice president of operations for Hyatt Hotels Corp.; John Chidsey, president for Burger King North America; John Savary Jr. an attorney with Dunlap & Moran; Robert Scheb, an attorney with Bowman George Scheb Toale Robinson; and Ross Windom, a pilot with United Airlines.

As for what made Mortonis Market so successful, Morton says: iIill be honest with you it wasnit the price. Mortonis has always had a somewhat high price, Marableis prices were high as well. What made us different is in our service.i

Mortonis friend and past family physician, Dr. Bob Windom, agrees. iTed Morton has devoted his whole life to serving people and trying to make people happy,i he says. iThat is part of what made him successful. People just want to be around him.i

Ron Foxworthy, a Sarasota developer and plumbing contractor, says Mortonis Market has been where Sarasotans try to shop primarily because of Ted Morton and the personal service he built into the business.

iTed is just the kind of person that everyone always goes to for advice,i Foxworthy says. iHe would always encourage people in the business world even to the detriment of himself. He may not have been the richest guy in the world, but he ran the best organization in the area.i

On June 2, 2002, the Sarasota City Commission declared the day iTed Morton Dayi and awarded him the key to the city.

The Argus Foundation award ceremony will be Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. in Serendipity at The Country Club of Sarasota, 3600 Torrey Pines Blvd. Russell Currin will also be posthumously honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the event

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