An Oliver woman is capitalizing on the trend of increasing numbers of Mexicans coming to the South Okanagan for seasonal agricultural work.
Jany Lopez saw there was a real need for good food that reminds the workers of home.
“I noticed that there was basically no Mexican food in the grocery stores, and with more than 500 Mexican workers coming to this area each year, I knew they would love to be able to buy good food from home,” said Lopez.
She turned her idea into a business that is already becoming popular — not just with the visiting Mexican workers, but also with South Okanagan residents who love authentic foods from south of the Rio Grande. On March 18, Lopez opened Tienda Mexicana in downtown Oliver, importing Mexican foods from the U.S., from contacts in Vancouver and some directly from Mexico. Her goal is to bring the authentic flavours of Mexico and a variety of Hispanic food products to Canada so farm workers can buy their favourite brands, and at the same time send money to Mexico, all in one location.
In addition to offering a storefront that is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Lopez has launched a mobile store. A truck is used to deliver a selection of foods to Mexican workers on farms and orchards throughout the South Okanagan from Osoyoos to Summerland. A selection of Mexican clothing is also available in her store as well as an international electronic money-transfer service. It allows people to wire money instantly to Mexico, Central America, the U.S. or anywhere else over the internet.
Tienda Mexicana specializes in a wide range of Mexican foods, including jalapenos, a variety of other peppers, rice, beans, salsas, cheeses, chorizo sausage, tamales, tortilla chips, refried beans, genuine Mexican Coca-Cola, Mexican seasonings and spices and even edible cactus.
“It is going great so far, with a lot of interest and customer acceptance from the Mexican migrant workers and also from local people,” said Lopez.
Her long-term plans include opening a store in Keremeos later this year and possibly one in Osoyoos next year, if business continues to do well.
Lopez, who is originally from Mazatlan, Mexico, moved to Osoyoos in 2002. Two years later she moved to Vancouver, where she studied tourism and worked in hotels and public relations firms. Last year she moved to Oliver and began selling Mexican foods on a small scale from a table in a mall. Although she did open a small storefront operation in Oliver later in 2010, she wanted to build a more substantial and properly funded business. Lopez said she wouldn’t have been able to follow through with her business idea without the help of start-up business financing from Community Futures Okanagan Similkameen.
As another service for Mexican seasonal workers, Lopez said she is offering a free tax help centre in her store, with a volunteer coming in once a week to help the workers fill out their income tax forms. Lopez is optimistic about her business and looks forward to providing authentic Mexican foods to increasing numbers of South Okanagan people from her storefront at #4-34836 97th St. in downtown Oliver.
“I think it’s going to be a very good year,” she said.