Ron Eade Ottawa Citizen
OTTAWA, CANADA — David Feng’s enthusiasm seems without limit as he describes his new Asian Supercentre grocery store on Tenth Line Road in east-end Orléans, gesticulating without stop, waving at the ceiling, pointing to where dramatic signs and palm motifs will dangle from the rafters, reaching toward banks of coolers and freezers that, in two months, will brim with foodstuffs from around the world.
His will be no ordinary superstore. Where big-box Chinese grocery outlets are not exactly rare in major centres like Toronto, Vancouver, and even here in Ottawa, this one will offer a much more broad selection of ethnic treats touching everything from Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine to Thai, Japanese, East Indian, Middle East, Mediterranean, European, as well as North American flavours. Yes, you will be able to buy milk and eggs there — and so much more.
“Basically, what we’re doing here is distinguishing ourselves from any other store,” says David, 48, one of five owners of the outlet he expects to open in about late November.
Earlier in this blog, David dangled a grand opening date of Nov. 18, but the realities of construction schedules and co-ordinating myriad trades and contractors has necessarily pushed the target date back by two weeks. Those things happen.
The inevitable delay, albeit minor, has not dampened his unbridled enthusiasm. A job fair is still planned for Oct 8 and 9, and again on Oct. 15 and 16, when he’ll be looking to recruit 160 stock workers, chefs, food handlers, cashiers and others. But when I dropped by the 40,000-square-foot store yesterday at 1777 Tenth Line Rd., located in a former Canadian Tire store nestled between a Food Basics and GoodLife Fitness Centre, the place was pretty much a mess — construction sites tend to be exactly so.
His unnamed partners already own four big-box Chinese food stores in Toronto; this will be their first major venture outside the Big Smoke. Once opened and running in Orléans, their plan is to move westward in the nation’s capital to open “two or three” more Asian Supercentres in as early as 1 1/2 years.
Now, that’s ambitious.
Asian Supercentre will house 18 departments offering the largest fresh and live fish market in Ottawa, fresh produce, fresh halal meat, on-site baked goods, deli, noodles, sauces, pickles, grains, spices, canned good and fruit. It is similar but much broader in concept to T&T Supermarket, owned by Loblaws Cos. Ltd., that attracted many hundreds of shoppers when it opened its 51,000-square-foot store two years ago on Hunt Club Road, near the Ottawa airport, offering a full line of Asian and Western foodstuffrs and more than 20,000 products.
But David says his store is all about multicultural diversity, where variety and choice reigns surpreme.
“Major multicultural markets are mainly in Toronto and Vancouver now, where most focus on a specific ethnic category — either Chinese, Japanese, Southeast Asian. But we have a different concept to build the first multicultural superstore in Canada that serves many ethnic groups,” David says.
“Ours is a completely different, much broader vision. While T&T covers Chinese, Japanese, Korean, that’s their major business. But we’re going much beyond that.”
I wondered, what’s the market in east-end Ottawa, a community known more for its French-Canadian heritage than, say, Indo-Chinese or Middle Eastern?
“We’ve done a lot of research,” David says.
“Orléans is already a multicultural community and it’s growning very, very fast. So we’re confident we have a multicultural market that’s already here, and expanding fast.
“Our store won’t be just a little bit of everything, it will offer a complete line of everything. Take our bakery: We’ll have Western style baked goods, European, Asian, South Asian, Middle East, all under the same roof.”
And while his store will sell Asian kitchenware, you’ll not find any dish soap, laundry detergent, towels, fashions, television sets or CDs. There will be no dental clinic, no optometry office, no insurance bureau. “Everything we do is related to food,” David says.
“That is our 100-per-cent focus.”
Asian Superstore also promises consultants on hand to help customers with recipes, to find ingredients, and tell them how to use foodstuffs they may not be familiar with. And, he says, his employees will be able to talk to customers in many languages.
“We want customers to come here to enjoy the culture, enjoy the atmosphere, and relax. We want them to have a comnpletely different shopping experience, to experience foods they have not seen before.
“Food is the art of culture and should present much more value. Enjoy the different food cultures — that is our vision. We approach this as multicultural ambassadors. It’s not just about filling your shopping basket.”