Oct. 22, 1941 – April 4, 2019
Ralph L. Kushner was in high school when he got his introduction to the grocery business, working part time at a Loblaws supermarket.
That led to a degree in restaurant and food service from what was then Erie County Technical Institute and a job as manager-trainee in 1962 for the food wholesaler S. M. Flickinger Co., which operated Red and White grocery stores and Super Duper supermarkets. His mentor was Burt Flickinger Jr., grandson of the company’s founder, who became his lifelong friend and business associate.
Mr. Kushner went on to manage and co-own nine Super Dupers in four Western New York counties. He also applied his expertise as a co-founder of the Food Bank of Western New York, where he served in major roles as a volunteer for more than 30 years.
The Food Bank was just one of his numerous volunteer activities. The Jewish Community Center of Greater Buffalo, where he was director of volunteers, named its annual Volunteer Service Award in his honor.
He died April 4 in his home in East Amherst after a lengthy illness. He was 77.
Born in Buffalo, he was a 1959 graduate of Amherst Central High School, where he was a member of the Student Council and a manager for the basketball team. After a year of active duty in the Army, he served in the Army Reserve.
In the early 1960s, he met a school teacher from Toronto, Gail Eisen, whose family had a summer cottage in Crystal Beach, Ont. They were introduced by her older sister, whose husband was American, and they were married in 1965.
Eager to advance his career in the late 1960s, Mr. Kushner advertised for a management position in a food industry newspaper.
“He got a reply from California,” his wife said. “He went out there and met with this fellow who ran Jumbo Markets who offered him to be director of operations for Jumbo.”
After a year in Sacramento, however, Mr. Kushner’s mother became ill. He brought his family back to Buffalo and met with a friend, the developer Nathan Benderson.
“He said he had an empty store coming up in Cheektowaga,” Mrs. Kushner said. “He said, ‘It’s a supermarket. How’d you like to run it for me?’ All of his success from then on stemmed from that meeting.”
He and Benderson became partners in Supermarket Development Inc., with Mr. Kushner as president. They owned and operated Super Duper markets in Niagara Falls, Metro Buffalo, Gowanda, Attica and Silver Creek.
He attracted notice nationwide by closing his Super Duper stores early when the Buffalo Bills played in the Super Bowl so that his employees could watch the game with their friends and families.
Scrivner Inc. acquired S. M. Flickinger in 1984 and rebranded the Super Duper stores as Jubilee Foods stores in 1992. Mr. Kushner retired shortly thereafter and became a consultant to Scrivner and an operations executive with Benderson Development.
He also served as industry co-chairman of Export Expo '93, an international trade show held in Buffalo in conjunction with the World University Games.
His experience with wasted food in supermarkets spurred his efforts to help establish the Food Bank.
“At the end of the day,” his wife said, “they had to throw away products that were still edible. He would see all kinds of produce going into the dumpsters. He couldn’t stand it. It made him so sad.”
He became a volunteer leader at the Food Bank and, when the agency’s executive director left suddenly in 1994, he stepped in as an unpaid interim executive director for five months until a new director was found.
He was presented with a special award for his work that year and later was honored with the Food Bank’s Founders Award.
In 1995, he received an award for community service and volunteerism from the National Conference for Community and Justice, which cited his work not only with the Food Bank, but also with AIDS Family Service, Cradle Beach Camp and the Jewish Federation.
He was a director of the United Way Management Assistance Program, a member of the Hilbert College Board of Directors and a volunteer with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Grassroots Gardens and the Weinberg Campus.
As he and his wife began wintering in Boca Raton, Fla., they were active there with the Daily Bread Food Bank and Shared Care, a respite program.
He was named Citizen of the Year in 1997 by the Western New York Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. At their convention in Buffalo in 1998, the association's New York Chapter also honored him as Citizen of the Year.
In addition to his wife, survivors include two daughters, Susan Wolfson and Amy Kushner; a sister, Norma Cohen; and two grandsons.
Services were held April 7 in Amherst Memorial Chapel, 281 Dodge Road, Getzville.