She came to Canada as a fish plant worker. Now, her store helps other workers feel closer to home.

·3 min read
Ruby Lubigan opened her grocery store in Bloomfield called Sari Sari Retail in 2018. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)
Ruby Lubigan opened her grocery store in Bloomfield called Sari Sari Retail in 2018. (Thinh Nguyen/CBC - image credit)

This is part one of a three-part series in May — Asian Heritage Month — about people who have been bringing Asian flavours to rural Prince Edward Island.

Ruby Lubigan arrived on the Island from the Philippines 11 years ago to work at a fish plant in western P.E.I. Like many other temporary foreign workers, she came to Canada looking for a better future.

Now a Canadian citizen, she's running a grocery store at her home in Bloomfield called Sari Sari Retail while working full-time at a bank in O'Leary.

"Everything that happened to me is a surprise," Lubigan said.

"When I left my country, I never thought, I never dreamed that I'm going to be here in Canada. Because my life in the Philippines is really poor. We can't be able to have food for three times a day. There was a time we always ate once a day only," Lubigan said.

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

The 'everything' store

Since Lubigan arrived in 2011, she had noticed a growing number of foreign workers in western P.E.I., especially from Asian countries like Thailand and the Philippines. So she started making plans for a grocery store selling food from these cultures, and opened it in 2018.

"I decided to open my business … so they can cook whatever they want, anytime they want," said Lubigan. "It's really important for us to make our own culture food. We miss our home."

And she named it Sari Sari, which means "everything" or "variety" in Tagalog.

"There's a little bit of everything in my store. I have some Japanese, I have some Thai food, Chinese and Filipino," she said, adding some locals thought her store sold clothes because of the word 'sari."

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

Back then, Lubigan ran the store in the living room of her home. Not a lot of people knew about it, so whenever she heard of events happening in communities in the West Prince area, she went there to talk to people and introduce them to her store, she said.

At the time, she was working full-time as a cleaner at Westisle Composite High School.

"It's hard to manage your time for that. But I keep pushing myself that I've started this business, and I know my hard work is going to be paid off someday."

'Feels like we're right at home'

Her business soon outgrew the living room, so she has moved it to a building constructed on her yard.

She's glad the store is now the place to go for immigrants in the area to buy ingredients they need to cook food from their cultures, Lubigan said.

Many come to the store to buy ingredients for adobo, which is often considered the national dish of the Philippines. It's a delicious braised chicken or pork dish, cooked in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar, she said.

Thinh Nguyen/CBC
Thinh Nguyen/CBC

Other popular dishes people make with ingredients bought from her store are pancit bihon — stir-fried noodles with vegetables — as well as sinigang, a sour soup dish.

"Most of us, we can't go home right away, and then especially [because of the] pandemic," she said. "But if we cook something, it feels like we're right at home."

Lubigan doesn't want to stop there. Cooking is her passion, so she's doing some expansion in her garage to build a takeout counter, where she'll be cooking and offering all-day breakfast.

She won't be serving foods like hash browns and sandwiches, but something Filipinos can eat many times a day, Lubigan said.

"My all-day breakfast is going to be fried rice."

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