Serving Customers and Community For Seventy Years.
WWII ends. A family business begins.
After serving in the Navy during wartime, Al Pontius came home to LaPorte with a determination to be his own master. Because he had worked at the East Lincolnway Fruit Market in LaPorte since he was only 12, he understood the importance of customer satisfaction and had a keen appreciation for freshness and quality. So when he was offered a partnership with Charlie Britt and Gus Kubica in a small Michigan City storefront grocery known as Hoosier Food Mart, he sold his car to get the capital he needed to buy in. He later bought his partners out to become sole proprietor of the business, by then called Thrifty Food Mart.
With a reputation for cleanliness and the best ground beef in town, Al’s business soon outgrew his tiny store, necessitating a move to bigger quarters on Michigan Boulevard. When that became too small, he took over the former National Tea store across the Boulevard, changing the name to Al’s Thrif-T-Mart.
This was at a time when the grocery chains had started to push out the 28 little “Mom and Pop” stores that existed in town. So as these stores closed up, Al hired the former owners, who brought with them a wealth of experience plus their own following of loyal customers. Add to that his belief in the importance of customer service and cleanliness, and the result was a store strong enough to compete with the growing chain stores. Using this cornerstone as the foundation, Al began to expand his horizons. He went on to acquire a second store in Michigan City, and bought the Jim’s store in LaPorte, in the neighborhood where he grew up. Over the years, Al went on to become one of LaPorte County’s most prominent businessmen, giving back support to the community he loved. In recognition of that support, he was honored with both the prestigious Golden Deeds and Good Samaritan awards. As recently as 2011, Parents and Friends Inc. named one of their group homes in his honor.
Sadly, Al passed away December 30, 2006, but his son Gil continues the tradition of service started so many years ago. There are presently five stores that comprise Lakeshore Foods Corporation – one in LaPorte, two in Michigan City, one in South Haven, and one in New Buffalo called Barney’s. Customer satisfaction and dedication to quality and freshness are still top priorities. And Gil continues to live in LaPorte County, having raised his family here, serving on numerous boards that help the community. Gil is presently Chairman of the Board of the Duneland Health Council. He is a past chairman of the Indiana Grocers and Convenience Stores Association, past Capital Campaign Chairman for the Salvation Army, past board member of Memorial Hospital and past member of the Midwest Grocers Foundation. His wife, Cindy, formerly served on the board of directors for Meals On Wheels, The Unity Foundation and Marquette Foundation.
In 2009, Gil and Lakeshore Foods were one of United Way’s Burton B. Ruby Cornerstone Award recipients.
In 2007, their daughter Alexis Pontius joined the company as vice-president. A 2003 graduate of St. Mary’s, Alexis majored in communications and worked in the Los Angeles area for four years prior to returning to Michigan City and the family business. She also returned to school, earning her MBA from the University of Notre Dame.
Alexis currently serves on the Board of the United Way of LaPorte County (as well as co-chairing their 2009 and 2010 fundraising campaigns) and is a founding member of the Women’s Leadership Council.
Seventy years of service to customers and community. The tradition continues from one generation to the next.