Business-savvy newcomers bring world of flavour to Islanders visiting their stores

·5 min read
'I do a lot of education ... how to cook different Japanese cuisine with the products which they can buy from our shop, what the product is about and how to use them,' says Sumikko Mart owner Daisy Chan. (Submitted by Daisy Chan - image credit)
'I do a lot of education ... how to cook different Japanese cuisine with the products which they can buy from our shop, what the product is about and how to use them,' says Sumikko Mart owner Daisy Chan. (Submitted by Daisy Chan - image credit)

Islanders looking to explore the world through food and cooking have never had it this good.

Grocery stores which mainly carry international goods have been popping up across the Island, offering many P.E.I. residents a window into different cultures, and helping the province's diverse immigrant communities feel a little closer to home.

"We've seen quite a few new shops or services open up over the last few years that cater specifically to the newcomer communities, but they're also very well received by the more established Islander community as well," says Nicole Bellefleur, who runs the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce's P.E.I. Connectors program.

P.E.I. Connectors helps businesses operated by immigrants to connect with entrepreneurs and communities across the Island.

Bellefleur said a lot of the new stores they help out share one thing in common: they have been able to identify that there is a growing local demand for the products they offer.

"A lot of the newcomers who've been recruited to come to the Island have a very entrepreneurial spirit," she said. "When they moved here, they've identified that there's a gap in the availability of items at the local level that are in demand by people from their own cultural communities. And so, they've stepped up to fill that gap."

Here is a look at some stores which have opened their doors in the last couple of years, as well as what they sell and who is running them.

The Spice Store

Submitted by Ramila Agrawal
Submitted by Ramila Agrawal

Having opened in late 2017, the Spice Store is now pretty well established within the Charlottetown community. The store at 127 St. Peters Rd. sells frozen and fresh Indian food, groceries and, well, spices.

"India is a very large country," says owner Ramila Agrawal, who came with her family from Dubai in 2016. "We have so many different states and every state has their own preference in every kind of food item like the rice, the spices.

"The flavours are all different all over India. So we try to cater to every part of India."

Agrawal said the store is currently looking to move to a larger space so that everything customers need is "under one roof."

She said while the store mainly appealed to the Indian community at first, it has since then become popular among Islanders who're trying to expand their culinary horizons.

Submitted by Ramila Agrawal
Submitted by Ramila Agrawal

"I'm happy to say that today we are catering to anybody and everybody," she said. "On the Island, we're seeing so much of an increase in the need and the want to understand Indian food and how to prepare it at home."

Agrawal said her staff is prepared to help customers who may have questions about recipes or need help finding the right ingredients.

She said her frozen and ready-to-eat meals are very popular, particularly among students and working families who may not have the time to prepare other meals.

Sumikko Mart

Submitted by Daisy Chan
Submitted by Daisy Chan

Sumikko Mart specializes in Japanese goods, including snacks, groceries, drinks and stationery. The store also sells fresh-to-order products, including Japanese and Hongkongese street food.

Daisy Chan and her family moved from Hong Kong to the Island almost two years ago. Her business at 15 St Peters Rd. (Unit 5 in the Shops of St. Avard) is just over a year old.

She said she's sort of the "one-man band" behind her store, doing everything from cleaning, to cooking, to customer service.

But Chan said her most important task is being there to teach Islanders about her products.

Submitted by Daisy Chan
Submitted by Daisy Chan

"Not many people know how to use them because they are in Japanese and also they don't [know much] about Japanese cooking," she said.

"I do a lot of education ... how to cook different Japanese cuisine with the products which they can buy from our shop, what the product is about and how to use them."

She said she's trying to build up her store's social media presence so Islanders are more aware of her business.

"We're still very new, just like a little baby," she said. "We believe we still need to put much more effort to learn and to grow so the Island knows who we are and what we are doing here."

The store's freshly made products such as its onigiri, daifuku and takoyaki are popular.

Asia Food Stock

Submitted by Tuan Pham
Submitted by Tuan Pham

This store at 261 Heather Moyse Dr. in Summerside mainly sells products from Vietnam, the Philippines and China, but it also has some Japanese and Korean goods.

Owner Tuan Pham, who's from Vietnam, said there were a couple Asian stores in the area before he opened his doors about a year ago, but they eventually closed down.

"Before I set up my business, some people who stay in Summerside, some in Tignish, O'Leary, had to come all the way ... to Charlottetown to buy Asian food."

Pham said the store sells over 1,000 items, including dried foods, tofu, dim sum and Asian sausages.

Asian Food Stock also has an online storefront and delivers to many areas across the Island.

HighMart

HighMart at 175 Queen St. in Charlottetown sells various foods from Latin American countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Argentina, as well as goods from the Philippines, Africa, India and Pakistan.

Khalid Mehmood Cheema moved to the Island in 2019 to set up the convenience store, which is located in downtown Charlottetown. Before coming to P.E.I., he did business around the globe.

"I'm originally from Pakistan," Cheema said. "I worked in Madrid 17 years and had a store in Madrazo. I worked in Dominican Republic, Punta Cana, 23 years. Also in Mexico, [and] I imported from Colombia."

A seasoned salesman, Cheema devised a business plan which revolves around three key tenets: keep the store clean, organized and have great customer service.

"Some businesses, they are selling the same product, but they are not well organized or they have no cleaning system," he said. "The quality of product is not the same, The prices are not the same."

Cheema said his store is popular among seasonal workers and other small communities across the Island, particularly the Filipino community.

He said some of the products they offer are difficult to find on the Island.

"Before our store, those people were purchasing those merchandise from Montreal and from Ontario, and they were paying a lot of money … for delivery to their home."

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