The Okanagan welcomes its first Arabic market
Not only did they launch a new business in the middle of a pandemic but these three young people have created the region’s first Arabic market with products imported directly from places like Turkey, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.
They bought the In ‘N Out Convenience Store in Kelowna’s Landmark 5 building in early July and relaunched it as the In ‘N Out Arabic Market on July 27 with a mix of Western and Arabic products.
“When we came to see the store, all these shelves were way empty,” Maria Limas told iNFOnews.ca. “We said, we have to do something. Let’s do Arabic. There is a big community of people from the Middle East here. There are families from Syria, Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco . . . .”
As well as being an indication that Kelowna is becoming a more multicultural city, they're a diverse group themselves.
Ammar Bin Halabi is the actual owner of the store and hails from Yemen. Limas met him when she was a foreign student from Mexico attending school in Vancouver, where she was drawn to Middle Eastern culture and customs.
Bin Halabi’s brother, Mohammed, is now a business administration student at Okanagan College. He's also getting hands-on experience in the store while studying, learning what it's like to be involved in a business that runs seven days a week and open for more than 13 hours (8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.) most days.
Being in the Landmark area, their main customer base are the people working there – although the 300 people normally working in the Landmark 5 are down to about 30 right now because of COVID-19.
Those workers are catching on to the fact that about a third of the store is stocked with a wide range of foods from Arab countries, with one customer showing pleasure that that canned drink he’d just purchased was made in Yemen.
There are 22 Middle Eastern countries that belong to the Arab League with a population of 200 million. Most are Muslim so having halal food (made according to Islamic law) is a huge drawing card.
But, Limas noted, it’s the authentic recipes for everything from beans to candy to drinks that makes Arabic food special.
“Vimto, this one is so famous, especially for Ramadan,” Limas said. “When you break your fasting, usually this is what you drink.”
Vimto comes as a liquid concentrate that water is added to. It’s often a featured beverage at meals.
Then there are the, also famous, “Wanted Pops” candies that come in flavours like coconut and caramel.
The market supplies a complete range of foods from grains and lentils to pickled turnips and wafers that are imported from Arabic countries, labelled in English, French and Arabic. They also carry halal meats from a Richmond B.C. supplier.
While they offer Western style ready-made food like sandwiches, there are also Arabic grab-and-go offerings made locally by Bargouts Food such as hummus, Shawarma (similar to a donair) and Ylanji (rice, onions and spices wrapped in grape leaves).
More products are on the way so, rather than being a typical corner store with pop and chips, it’s a complete grocery store for those with a fondness for Arabic foods — and you don’t have to Arabic to enjoy the coconut Wanted Pops.
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