Penticton residents who live and work in the downtown core finally have a full service grocery store to call their own.
The former Royal Canadian Legion building at 502 Martin St. has been converted into Maharajah Grocerz. The store celebrated its grand opening two weeks ago.
The store is owned and operated by the brother and sister tandem of Simar and Baani Arora. Simar moved to Canada from India in early 2019. His sister had lived in Calgary for nine years before moving to Kelowna last year to join her brother. The siblings opened their first Maharajah Grocerz store in Kelowna last year.
There has been a need for a full service grocery store near the downtown core of Penticton for many years and things were going so well at their Kelowna store that they decided to expand to the Penticton market, said Simar.
The Vassilaki family owns the building and has been looking for a new tenant since the Legion relocated last year.
Maharajah Grocerz features a wide assortment of food products from their native India, as well as a wide assortment from other South Asian countries such as Pakistan and Malysia.
They will also be adding a single aisle dedicated to popular Canadian and North American food, a transition that will take place in the coming weeks and months, he said.
“Our original market was the South Asian population, but eventually we want to provide a full downtown market experience that will be popular with all Canadians,” he said.
Having a successful store in Kelowna has allowed the brother and sister to take their time in transitioning to opening a second location in Penticton, he said.
“From God’s grace, we’ve been doing well since we opened in Kelowna last year,” he said. “We found out quickly that a lot of people from Penticton were coming to our store in Kelowna because they were having a hard time finding international food in Penticton.
“A lot of those same people asked us to open another store here. We were going to originally open a store near Skaha Lake Road because much of Penticton’s East Indian community lives near there. But we met John (Vassilaki) and instead of moving into the former Last Call Liquor Store in the south end, he told us the downtown badly needed a grocery store.”
The Vassilaki family has been great to work with, he said.
“He and his family has helped us a lot,” he said. “He has really been a blessing to us. He helped us every step of the way.”
While the store does focus on food products from Asia, the goal is to provide a full service outlet for everyone, said Simar.
“We have a lot of Indian food, but we also have the basic necessities like bread, butter, milk, soft drinks and snacks. We also have 21 varieties of rice and every culture enjoys rice. You can buy a bag of 11 pounds of rice for $8.99. That’s a good deal.”
The store also offers a wide variety of samosas and ingredients to make butter chicken, which are extremely popular with Asian and Canadian customers, he said.
Response in the first two weeks has been solid, he said.
“It has been steady, good … we’re still trying to get the word out about the store,” he said. “A lot of people still don’t know about us, but we’re confident that will change.
“Right now, we’re just trying to meet our costs and not worrying about profits. As long as we meet the needs of the community, we’ll be happy until we get established. Fortunately, our Kelowna store is doing really well. As long as we can pay the rent and wages and utilities until people know about us, we’ll be happy.”
Maharajah is the Indian term for “King of Kings” and the goal for his family and staff is to provide quality food at a reasonable price, while ensuring the best level of customer service, he said.
There is plenty of competition in the grocery store business in Penticton, but Simar is confident his store can still thrive.
“There are a lot of elderly people who live downtown and they don’t want to go far to get the basics,” he said. “If they need bread, milk or cheese or vegetables, we have it all right here. If they want to buy rice or buttered chicken, that’s our specialty. We’re right in the heart of the downtown.”
The grocery store has items spread out over 4,000 square feet and there is another 6,000 square feet being used for storage, he said.
“We hope to be here for a long time,” he said.
Maharajah Grocerz is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.