A Taste of Home

How International Grocery Stores are Helping Immigrants

Story by Kelsey Raynard, Photos by Paul Krasauskas



Superior Outdoors



The experience of homesickness is universal. However, the power of food to help us feel connected to home and to bring back memories of family and culture is equally so. Having products that are accessible, affordable, and recognizable is instrumental for many immigrants’ transition to life in Canada. Three international grocery stores— Land of Spices, DenkyMax, and Golden Flower—along with many others throughout our city, are helping to aid that transition. Each of these unique businesses sources their items from a different region of the world. Land of Spices sells various Indian snacks and essentials, DenkyMax provides fresh and frozen food from across Africa and the Caribbean, and Golden Flower stocks products from across Asia, with a focus in the southeast region. While the owners of all three businesses hail from different countries, they all identified a common problem here in Thunder Bay: a lack of access to quality international food. “I landed in Thunder Bay on December 31, 2014, basically in the middle of the night. From the beginning, we lacked a place to find Indian products,” says Deepak Bonda, who owns Land of Spices with his wife Heena Bhataria. “More than the culture shock was the food shock!” he laughs. Reginald Okpulor and his wife Nkiru-Denky, owners of DenkyMax, explain that this lack of access has very real consequences for newcomers to Canada. “Research has shown that immigrants have stronger health than their Canadian counterparts, but this effect diminishes over time due to numerous factors including nutrition,” explains Okpulor. “Clearly, lack of access to ethnic food was a factor that contributed to the diminishing of the healthy immigrant effect.” As a result, many international students and families try to source these items from bigger city centres (and sometimes from back home directly), often at a cost that is unsustainable. Paw Nay Htoo, owner of Golden Flower, says that her family used to travel at length to try and source Burmese and other Asian food. “When I came to Thunder Bay in 2004, there was no Asian food. Sometimes I would ask my friends from Toronto to send food through the mail, but that was so expensive,” she says. “We would go to Winnipeg, which is a bigger city with more Asian grocery stores. We would fill up our truck and bring food to Thunder Bay because we had friends who were asking us to bring these products back.” All these entrepreneurs decided to bridge this gap