Born on Aug. 29, 1943, Ron Bernardi was working at , the first in the franchise, by the time he was 16.
“53 years ago I started bagging groceries,” Bernardi said. He worked his way up to meat cutter and eventually manager. Today he is Sunset Foods' family representative to the community, though the title of his business card reads Servant.
That title captures Bernardi's whole attitude. A dedicated Rotarian, he recited the organization's motto — service above self — and said "that’s how I try to live my life. It’s the way we run our business. Just serving the needs of customers, the community."
The first Sunset Foods opened 75 years ago in Highland Park by Bernardi's uncles, four of the Cortesi brothers. Three generations later, there are five Sunset Food locations in Illinois and the business remains in the family.
"We still have the same business model," Bernardi said. "You find out what the customer wants and you give them what they want. They want quality first, value and service. That’s who we are in a nutshell, it’s not really complicated.”
Today, a Sunset Foods branch carries 50,000 times, but the company tries to maintain the corner grocery store mentality.
“Northbrook is a community of volunteers," he said. “Usually if there’s an event in Northbrook, Sunset is involved in one way or the other. Either we just show up and be part of it, or donate food or whatever. We give back to the community. We’re so much a part of the community.”
Bernardi did not go to college. Sunset has been his entire career. After bagging groceries, he became a meat cutter and eventually managed the Northbrook store. He still has an office there, but says he's no longer involved with operations.
“Working at Sunset really helped me understand my strengths," he said. "I liked serving people and they responded to me. I think that served me well, because I really wasn’t sure where I wanted to go in life.”
Lately, Bernardi is an active member of Northbrook Rotary, the , board member at the and a charity auctioneer.
“Auctioneering, that’s one of my passions," he said. "I’ve been doing it for about 30 years. It’s one of my gifts. I love to engage an audience, have them laugh, crack a few jokes.”
“I love helping non-profits make money," he added.
Bernardi estimates he does about 20 auctions a year, with one scheduled in October for the
He says doing auctions are among his gifts, but unlike some professional auctioneers, he's not always the fastest talker.
"I’m like a musician that doesn’t know a note.”
And yet, Bernardi was not always this sociable.
"I used to be very shy," he said. "Over time, I realized that when I get up in front of a crowd people responded. Wherever you are, if there’s fruit, you’re probably in the right orchard. If there’s no fruit, then maybe it doesn’t line up with your gifts and talents.”
Wife and Faith
Bernardi says his wife of almost 40 years, Terry, is more "behind the scenes" but has been supportive of her husband's outgoing lifestyle.
"She’s the love of my life," Bernardi said. "We have the same values, she’s the best."
He says the two met in a coffee shop and "just hit it off."
"I think our spirits meshed, because we are both very spiritual and both very much into reading The Bible," Bernardi said. "We still do that today. As a husband and wife, we open The Book, read a psalm, talk about it, and that’s when we have our deepest communication."
Bernardi does not belong to any church, though says he has visited a few in town. He prefers to practice his beliefs privately.
"I’m not real religious, but I’m very spiritual," he said. "I think I just feed my spirit. I’m more of an independent believer."
Much of those beliefs were learned from studying The Bible over the years.
"All the answers to life are right in The Book," he said. "I found that to be true in my 69 years and it hasn’t changed."
Bernardi reads both books of The Bible and finds inspiration in one character especially.
"I love the Jewish history, there’s so much richness there," he said. "My favorite character in The Bible is Enoch. We only know one thing about him, he walked with God, that’s all we know. That’s my hero, that’s all I can do. Try to walk every day with Him, and be a reflection of Him and try to be a light. That’s me."