Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

All this, and fantastic fritters, too

Filipino market first stop for new immigrants

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THE owner of one of the oldest and most successful Filipino-owned businesses in Winnipeg — Bueno (Bros) Supermarket Ltd. — has seen her share of challenges in the 37 years since it was launched.

The biggest occurred in 1995 and 1996, when Carmen Bueno's husband and two other business partners -- both relatives -- died within a 10-month period.

That left her in charge of a business operation that had grown to three grocery stores, two restaurants, a bakery and a banquet hall.

Bueno said her husband, Eliseo, had been the driving force behind the business, while she helped run their original supermarket/restaurant at 84 Isabel St. She said she tried for a couple of years to keep everything going, but found it was too difficult.

"I decided, when there was a buyer, to get rid of them. I could not do all of these things myself."

So over the next couple of years, she sold two of the supermarkets, the bakery, the banquet hall and one of the restaurants. That left her with the original supermarket and restaurant on Isabel. With the help of her son, Patrick, now 34, and her daughter, Eliza, now 30, she's been able to handle that just fine.

Two years ago, the Bueno (Bros) Supermarket faced another challenge when the Edmonton-based Lucky Supermarket chain opened a 32,000-square-foot store in Winnipeg.

Bueno said her sales dropped off as customers went to check out the new store and take advantage of some of the specials and giveaways it was offering. But fortunately, most drifted back, she said, and it's been business as usual since then.

The couple met after moving to Winnipeg -- she in 1970 and Eliseo in 1972. They were married shortly before launching the E.D. Bueno Supermarket, which was the original name of their business.

While she now has just one supermarket and one restaurant left, Bueno said her 9,000-square-foot store is still one of the four largest Asian supermarkets in the city.

Bueno said 90 per cent of the goods she sells in the supermarket are imported Asian foods, and she estimates 90 per cent of her customers are from the local Filipino community.

She said the store and restaurant have benefited from the influx of new Filipino immigrants to the city in recent years.

"They were introduced to my store first, before they go to other stores because we have everything they need -- produce, meat, fish, snacks, even beauty aids... " she said. "So it has helped a lot."

She said he's also hired about 21 new Filipino immigrants in the last three or four years to work in her two businesses. The businesses employ about 40 people, all of whom are Filipino immigrants.

"I wanted to help the Filipino community," she said, although the businesses have benefited, too.

"They're all very hard workers."

She said their hottest-selling product in the last few years has been fried banana fritters, called Turons. They're produced daily in the restaurant and sold in the supermarket, as well.

When they began selling the Philippine snack about 12 years ago, they sold a couple of hundred a day.

"Now it's thousands," Bueno said, adding people come from all over the city to buy them.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2012 J5

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