In most local grocery stores, diverse flavours from across the globe are distilled into a single “ethnic” or “international” foods aisle.
Mi Tierra Latina, the latest addition to North Vancouver’s list of niche grocers, is stocked full of goods from the colourful countries of Latin America while boosting business prospects for members of the immigrant community here in the Lower Mainland.
The new store, at 227 Lonsdale Ave., became the fourth Mi Tierra Latina location when it opened on Dec. 28. It’s also the first location to have an employee be a part owner.
“That’s kind of the project here,” says co-founder Sonia Zebadua. “We try to connect Latin American communities into the business world in Canada.”
With the Salvation Army just steps away, Zebadua said the location was chosen for its high foot traffic. “And it’s a beautiful area, too.”
Customers going to Mi Tierra Latina can expect to find goodies from everywhere in Latin America. There’s fair trade coffee from Colombia, Guatemala and Costa Rica. On the shelves, you’ll find alfajores – soft, shortbread-like cookies filled with dulce de leche – from Argentina. There are lots of spices, of course, as well as cocoa from some of the world’s most regarded regions for growing it.
Zebadua, who moved to Vancouver from Mexico in 2008, said it was surprising to learn that so many Canadians haven’t been to Latin America.
“It’s a pleasure for us to bring you guys a little bit of our culture,” she said, adding that customers will find the ambience and staff very welcoming at the store as well.
Mi Tierra Latina is for and by the community
After building a successful maintenance business, Zebadua and her three female business partners started branching out into coffee shops.
After the pandemic hit in 2020, a long-running grocery store in the West End shut down, and Zebadua and her partners had the opportunity to buy the store’s inventory. At first, they sold everything – even toilet paper – right from the coffee shop. Then, later that year, they opened the first Mi Tierra Latina in Davie Village.
The owners found themselves handling a lot of local suppliers, Zebadua explained. “A lot of restaurants were closed down. So all these chefs were manufacturing goods, and they were bringing their food to our store – frozen meats and things like that, even cooked vegetables.”
“It was a huge opportunity for everybody,” she said.
Eventually, they were able to save up enough cash, and with the help of investors and additional community support, they were able to open locations last year in North Burnaby and Commercial Drive – the latter at the former home of the East End Food Co-op.
“They all came together, even employees came together,” Zebadua said, emphasizing how Mi Tierra Latina’s ability to grow is tied to the local Latin American community.
It’s why she’s so proud that the Lonsdale store has an employee co-owner. “That’s the whole project,” she said.
Now that the group of grocers is handling more volume, with plans to open more locations, Zebadua said that they’ll be able to lower prices.
“We have some flowers from the Venezuelan community and the Colombian community,” she added. “They’re even cheaper than Walmart.”
“Canada is very, very expensive, so handling more volume and having more support from the community, we’re going to be able to bring prices even lower.”