Bernie Kenny refuses to rest on his laurels. Twenty-five years after he purchased the first two ShopRite stores in Delaware, the patriarch of Kenny Family Supermarkets maintains a healthy restlessness that his employees and loved ones know well.
“What’s my greatest accomplishment? I don’t have one,” Kenny explains matter-of-factly. It’s a difficult response to square when you consider that Kenny, with an early hand from his brother Rich, has grown ShopRite’s footprint to six total stores and 1000 employees. Beyond business, Kenny’s reputation for giving is legendary.
It’s not that Kenny isn’t proud of his business or impact on Delaware communities. A veteran of the Armed Forces, Bernie Kenny is simply laser-focused on areas of potential improvement. He wants the public to view ShopRite as more than a value store, and he wants to expand the company’s reach to serve more customers.
For better or worse, Bernie Kenny views himself and the business he’s spawned through a critical lens. But, with a 25th anniversary impending, one can’t ignore Kenny’s successes as a business owner, motivator, leader, patriarch, and luminary in communities throughout the state. Just don’t ask Bernie Kenny to take credit.
Kenny answers without pause when asked about his recipe for longevity in the grocery space:“My people.”
Chris Kenny, current President and CEO of The Kenny Family ShopRites of Delaware, and Melissa Kenny, Executive Vice President, have seen their father’s generosity play out firsthand. Melissa recalls the story of a ShopRite pharmacist—still relatively new with the company—whose wife was experiencing pregnancy complications. Informed that the pharmacist would have to drive through the night to reach adequate medical care or pay out-of-pocket for ambulance transport, Bernie Kenny arranged for helicopter transport at his own expense.
The siblings also recalled the case of a deli associate who their father would encounter frequently. The associate worked hard and was always on time, but never seemed to smile. One day, Bernie simply asked the associate why she never seemed happy and found out that she was ashamed of her crooked teeth. In short order, the boss arranged and paid for the treatment she needed for a brand-new smile.
Bernie Kenny cops to this “soft side,” attributing his charitable nature to parents who were, in his words, “good people.” That soft side has engendered immense loyalty among ShopRite employees, many of whom have climbed the company ladder after modest beginnings.
As she began accompanying her father to work as a child, Melissa Kenny quickly understood her father’s impact on his employees and local communities.
“I admired how much people admired my dad,” she recalls. “He could inspire people who had no goals and no experience to rise up through the ranks and become a manager, going from a minimum wage employee to a six-figure store manager. He really had a way of lighting people up that I was really into.”
As Bernie Kenny’s eldest children, Tom and Kathy, have also participated in the business. As Chris and Melissa guide the ShopRite brand beyond its first 25 years, they both recognize that their father’s endangered brand of tough love and boundless generosity is irreplicable.
Chris Kenny and his siblings also know, though, that there was no better training for their current roles than that provided by the School of Bernie.
“I feel very privileged to have the ability to continue [Bernie’s] legacy and also grateful to have had the time to be able to be a part of it.”