Meat and greet: Mike Contini packages hamburgers at Jewel Osco in River Forest.J. GEIL/Staff Photographer

Mike Contini remembers the address — numbers and all — of every Jewel Osco he’s ever worked at. Over the years, he’s been employed at more than a dozen locations.

“I started out in Melrose Park. Winston Park Shopping Center. 1334, that’s the address,” Contini said of his first Jewel gig.

Asked if he ever worked in Oak Park: “I worked at the Jewel at 438 Madison.”

Second nature, it seems, after so many years.

Currently an assistant market manager in the meat market department at the Lake Street Jewel Osco in River Forest, 2011 marks Contini’s 44th year with the supermarket giant. He started when he was a teenager.

“It was a part-time job. I was 16. Started out in grocery,” he recalls, “I was doing carts and worked my way up to night crew chief.”

He completed a three-year apprenticeship in the meat market, and eventually moved up to assistant manager. From there, he began the moves. “I’ve been at about 10-15 stores. Probably more.”

Through the years, especially the recent ones, Jewel has been a reliable employer. “I’ve always had a job. I was one of the more fortunate ones,” said Contini. “Jewel has always been a good place to work. The money’s never been really that much for us compared to other trades, but we’ve never been laid off. … Carpenters, electricians, they get laid off a lot. And they seldom get called back.”

Working at Jewel has been just as beneficial to his private life. “I met my wife at Jewel, in the store I started at,” Contini said. They were married shortly after and are now celebrating 43 years of marriage. Like her husband, she works at Jewel (in Franklin Park) to this day, at the checkout. The couple now has two children and four grandchildren.

“A company is a company,” Contini said. “Jewel is Jewel. They’ve changed hands four or five times, but it’s the people you work for. It’s all about the people. Jewel people are like family.”

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