Little Halal store on the Prairies

It’s Saturday afternoon, and Marjan Shah is moving fast on his feet.
He’s answering questions, taking orders over the phone and ringing
through customers. Weekends are no time for rest — that’s when his
store is busiest. He is one of the owners of Shah Foods — Regina’s
first Halal grocery store.

The little shop is tucked into a
strip mall beside a popular Indian restaurant. The shelves are full of
masala mixes and spices. A counter at the back of the store offers
fresh Halal meat — a rarity in this part of the country.

immigrated to Canada from Pakistan in 2003. He used to operate a small
import business in Toronto, Ontario, for a few years before he heard
about an opportunity in Saskatchewan.

“In the Muslim
community, there are about 2,000 to 3,000 people living here, but no
Halal meat. They were forming groups to bring back meat from a larger
city, or they would go the nearby farms and buy goats and sheep, and
slaughter them according to the Muslim faith and bring it home. They
were facing too many problems,” explains Shah.

So, in August 2008, the 45-year-old moved his wife and four children to Regina and started making plans to open a Halal store.

the local mosque, Shah met Mehboob Ahmad, a 24-year-old man from
Pakistan who had also recently moved to Regina from Cambridge, Ontario.
Ahmad came to Canada from Pakistan in 2007 to join his new wife. He
moved out west to take a job with a crop science company, but he had
aspirations of one day opening his own store.

Shah convinced Ahmad to join him in starting the business. In January 2009, the duo opened the doors of Shah Foods.

Getting Shah Foods off the ground

is slowing growing by word of mouth, but Shah admits it hasn’t been
easy. It can cost a $1,000 to truck in Halal meat from Vancouver or
Montreal. But he’s optimistic that there will always be a market for
his products — in his first few months of operations, Shah has
witnessed a steady stream of Muslim newcomers migrating from Ontario on
a weekly basis.

Shah’s more interested in providing a service
to his community than making a large profit. He didn’t come to Canada
to get rich, he explains. He came so his children could have a better
life — and he moved to Saskatchewan because the provincial immigrant
nominee program allowed him to bring family members to Canada sooner
than he could in Ontario.

Shah sacrificed a lot to bring his
family to Canada. He was a journalist in Pakistan and covered conflicts
all over the world. He loved his work, but he feared his children
wouldn’t have many opportunities in his native homeland. He now spends
12 hours a day in his grocery store, all in an effort to make enough
money to send his children to university one day.

Shah and
Ahmad say the secret to their success is “hard work and finding a
niche.” They realize a Halal store may not be successful in a place
that is saturated with similar businesses, but the partners recognized
a need in Regina and they are filling it.

Shah and Ahmad will
soon have more competition. Others have identified the same need — in
April 2009 another Halal store opened in the city. Saskatoon,
Saskatchewan’s other major city, now boasts three Halal stores, which
help cater to the fast growing Muslim community in Saskatchewan.

But, as the first Halal store in Regina, the two men have the benefit of establishing themselves are leaders in the business.