Liza Austria opened her store at 26 13th St. W., in October of 2011 and is now expanding it to twice its size.
“When I opened it was just half of this,” Austria said and pointed to the recently torn down drywall between the new space and the old.
“My objective was to cater not only Asian food but cater to all the ethnic groups in P.A.”
Over the years, Austria noticed the increase in multiculturalism in Prince Albert and that the shopping options were not meeting the demand.
“I realized these people also need to be catered (to) also,” she said.
“If I’m excited to see food from my homeland, I’m sure they would (be) too.”
“I talked to different ethnic groups, and then I asked them what their needs are,” she said.
The kaleidoscope of Prince Albert has changed a great deal since she came here in 1999.
“We are about nearly 2,000 Filipinos now. When I first came here there were only 54,” she said.
She is beginning to see the fruits of her efforts as customers make her their go-to stop in the North, with people coming from all over Prince Albert and the surrounding areas, including Nipawin and Melfort and beyond.
“Instead of them going to Saskatoon, they do all of their shopping here, “ Austria said.
Austria is not new to owning her own business. She came to Canada as a live-in care-giver and with her savings she bought a house and began her own care-home, Liza’s Personal Care Home, which she still owns.
Then she opened a small restaurant on Central Avenue called Fiesta Manila, which she ran until opening the grocery store instead.
“I noticed that I had more Canadian patrons in the restaurant rather than Filipino – because they all can cook – but what was missing was the ingredients that they use,” she said.
“Well if they can cook than they need the ingredients,” Austria said.
“I realized that there was more need for this,” she said.
“If I’m excited to see food from my homeland, I’m sure they would (be) too.” -
However she hasn’t abandoned the restaurant idea as, along with the extension of her current store, she intends to open a small café in the back with a daily-featured meal.
The café should be running by May or June of 2013.
Being a grocer is much more than a job for Austria. She loves meeting all the people in the community, both those new to Canada and those born here who just enjoy a little bit of a foreign pallet.
“For me it’s not work here. I really enjoy it … it’s the visiting that I really enjoy here and people getting to know each other,” she said.
Austria hopes to bring in people of different backgrounds to hold cooking sessions for those who would like to learn how to make another culture’s cuisine.
“I think it’s about time for P.A. to have something like this.”
The store also carries dry goods such as cooking utensils, ornaments, cookbooks and beauty products.
Austria gets a lot of support from the community, both Canadian and foreign-born.
“People like to travel. And then when they come back here they look for the food that they tried in Mexico,” she said.
“Some Mexican products, it was the Canadians that asked for me to bring them in.”
Austria recalls when local business-owner Malcolm Jenkins came in the door on the hunt for a particular thing.
“He came here and was looking for pickled mangos. And he was so excited,” she said.
As she expands the store she intends to bring in a greater variety of foods and especially to reflect the city’s changing population with more products for East Indians, Africans and Burmese people.
“I want the other (ethnic groups) to feel that they belong in the community.”