Stew Leonard, Sr.
Stew Leonard, Sr., of Westport, Conn., 93, the founder of one of the most famous food retailers in the world, Stew Leonard’s, passed away on April 26, 2023 at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York after a brief illness. Born in Norwalk, Conn., on December 1, 1929, to the late Anna Stewart Leonard and Charles Leo Leonard, he is survived by his wife of 70 years, Marianne Guthman Leonard, and their four children, Stew Jr. (Kim), Tom (Karen), Beth (Bill) Hollis, and Jill (Rocky) Tavello. He was predeceased by his siblings Leo (Margery) Leonard, Helen (Allan) Van Liew, Marion (Jerry) Murphy, James (Frances) Leonard, Anna Lane (Edward) Arthur and Dorothy Leonard, as well as his brother-in-law Stephen (Roberta) Guthman and his grandson, Stewart Leonard III.
Stew leaves behind 13 grandchildren: Blake (Edouard) Arbellot, Ryann (Matt) Grossbard, Chase Leonard, and Madison Leonard; TJ (Sarah) Leonard, Emma (Bobby) Johnson, and Jennie Lynne Leonard; Sarah (Matthew) Leclerc, Will (Rachel) Hollis, and Andrew (Alesha) Hollis; and Jake (Jennifer) Tavello, Brittney (Paul) Melitsanopoulos, and Rex (Catherine) Tavello. He was also the proud Papa Stew to 11 great-grandchildren: Romeo, Axel, and Ines Arbellot; Ava Hollis; Leo and Remi Hollis; Brayden, Hudson, and Cameron Leclerc; Zoey Melitsanopoulos; and Max Tavello. He is additionally survived by his brother-in-law Frank Guthman and many nieces and nephews.
A graduate of Norwalk High School and of the University of Connecticut’s School of Agriculture, Stew first worked for his family’s dairy business at Clover Farms Dairy in Norwalk. It was a state-of-the-art dairy by the standards of the time with a pasteurizing and bottling plant, and fresh milk delivered daily by trucks that had plastic cows on the front that “mooed” for the neighborhood children.
In the late 1960s, Stew realized the milk delivery business was going the way of the iceman. His belief that it was time to start something new was driven home when the state informed him that Clover Farms Dairy was in the path of a new highway. His dream was to build a retail dairy store where children could watch milk being bottled, while parents did their shopping in a farmer’s market atmosphere. In December 1969, Stew Leonard’s opened its doors—a 17,000 square foot store carrying just eight items.
The dairy store Stew founded in Norwalk not only became the “World’s Largest Dairy store” according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, but also earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest dollar sales per square foot of selling space. The company has also received worldwide acclaim for excellence in customer service and quality and is featured in two of management expert Tom Peter’s books: A Passion for Excellence and Thriving on Chaos.
Stew was presented with Presidential Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence in 1986 by former President Ronald Reagan and gave the keynote address to the National Speakers Association. Throughout the course of his life, Stew was consistently recognized by his peers and the media for excellence in retailing and entrepreneurship. He was named “One of the Top 50 Visionaries” by Supermarket News in 2002 and additionally received the Entrepreneur of the Year Award (Ernst+Young and Inc. Magazine), the International Friendship Award (Dale Carnegie), and numerous others. Stew was also presented with an honorary doctorate by the University of Bridgeport in 1987.
Stew remained a prolific writer throughout his life and published a memoir, “Stew Leonard: My Story,” in 2009. He loved spending time on Long Island Sound and won the 1956 North American Water Ski championship and set a world and national record in point totals for trick water skiing in 1959. He additionally invented and patented a device called the “Skee-Trainer,” which was attached to a tow rope and was designed to teach people to water ski, and he taught people of all ages to water ski.
However, one of Stew’s favorite things to do throughout his life was to stand at Stew Leonard’s front door to greet customers, oftentimes by name. He loved giving back to the community and had a giving heart. He was a member of the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, among other local groups.
Today, Stew Leonard’s has grown to become a $600 million family owned and operated business with seven farm fresh food store locations and more than 2,500 Team Members. It was also named as one of FORTUNE magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” ten years in a row. The company is run by Stew’s son, Stew Leonard, Jr. with help from his siblings Tom Leonard, Beth Leonard Hollis, and Jill Leonard Tavello. Five of his grandchildren have also joined the business.
There will be a public wake for Mr. Leonard on Monday, May 1, 2023 from 3-7 p.m. at St. Matthew’s Church at 216 Scribner Ave, Norwalk, CT 06854.
Entombment at the Leonard family estate mausoleum will be held privately.
Collins Funeral Home of Norwalk is directing the arrangements.
Donations in Stew’s memory may be made to the Stew Leonard III Water Safety Foundation, a 501C3 charity which helps to fund swimming lessons for children in need, in honor of his grandson who drowned in 1989. Cards to the family can be sent to 100 Westport Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06851.