Hundreds of people lined up inside Garden City Mall on Thursday morning, anxiously awaiting the grand opening of Seafood City as the smell of shellfish wafted through the hallways.
The 50,000-square-foot store is stocked with imported foodstuffs, produce, fresh meat and fish, a bakery and a food court that will serve up Filipino cuisine.
The opening of the U.S. grocery chain’s Winnipeg location has been long awaited by Manitoba’s Filipino community; some 300 people were in line half an hour before the doors were set to open.
Eddie Ocampo, 60, arrived at the mall five hours in advance of the 9 a.m. grand opening.
"There will be lots of Filipino food that we don’t have now," Ocampo said about his motivation to be the first in line. He moved to Winnipeg from the Philippines in 1996.
He was one of the first 200 in line to receive a coupon to purchase a bag of rice, which is priced at about $10, for $1.
Ocampo said he has visited the chain in the United States and is eager to see how the second Canadian store compares. (The first is located in Mississauga, Ont.) The test, he said, would be his Thursday morning breakfast at the in-store food court.
People who set their alarms early Thursday were in search of authentic Filipino street food and exotic fruits that are expensive, if they’re available at all, in other Winnipeg grocery stores.
"I miss the taste of it. I moved here 10 years ago but I haven’t been home in four years," Filipino expat Katrina Bonilla said. Bonilla arrived at the north Winnipeg mall around 7:30 a.m. to scan the aisles for Filipino fruits, including santol (cotton fruit) and atis (custard apple).
Virginia Gonzalas, 81, said she wasn’t surprised to see a long lineup so early in the morning.
"It’s our Filipino pride," she said, adding that she overheard people in line who drove into the city from out of town and stayed in the parking lot overnight.
"We’re all so happy, the whole Filipino group. We will be able to meet our friends here because the restaurant (is) here and you can buy your groceries here. We’re so happy — but we have to wait in line," Gonzalas said.
Her first order of business when the doors opened? Finding a hot bowl of bansip, a traditional dish of noodles, chicken, pork, mixed vegetables and fried rice.
Statistics Canada data suggest nearly 60,000 Filipino immigrants live in Winnipeg, representing the largest expat population in the city.
Maggie Macintosh is a reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.
Updated on Thursday, November 28, 2019 at 10:38 AM CST: Corrects figures on Filipino population.