Kyaw Soe, who moved to Buffalo from Burma, speaks eight languages – and he needed all of them Friday.
Inside the new 9,000-square-foot Vineeta International Foods market on Grant Street, two blocks north of West Ferry, people from India, Iraq, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh and other distant lands, explored the aisles and sampled Indian dishes that included samosas, jalbe, ladoo and chai.
They were there for the market’s grand opening, and Soe, an employee, helped customers as they perused the large selection of produce, frozen foods, grains, flours and spices intended for a growing immigrant population.
“The response is very, very good. Whatever I was hoping, more than that,” said Sujata Chauhan, who owns the market with her husband, Rajender.
A lifelong vegetarian, she was born in a village near Delhi and has a bachelor’s degree in English and mathematics from a college she and her husband attended. The couple opened their grocery store with little fanfare a month ago.
Shoppers expressed gratitude at being able to find products previously unavailable or hard to find in the region.
“We need this type of market for Buffalo, an Indian and Pakistani and Bangladesh market,” said Mdrezaur Rahman, a U.S. citizen from Bangladesh.
“This is exciting, the first time in Buffalo we have a very big Indian store and a lot of varieties,” said Bobby Varun, shopping for ingredients for Delhi Chaat, the Indian restaurant he owns in Amherst. “The prices are very good, and I wish them good luck with their new business.”
The Chauhans own the similar but considerably smaller Lincoln Park Market on Niagara Falls Boulevard, nearly six miles away.
They first considered opening a market on the West Side after observing more and more customers from immigrant communities arriving by car or bus to shop.
That led them to buy the building near Breckenridge Street, which previously housed Aaron’s Rental Center, for $400,000.
The couple received assistance from Buffalo’s Office of Strategic Development, the Common Council and Buffalo State College Small Business Development Center, which helped them with planning, financing and finding investors.
“We’re pretty excited when an immigrant family, entrepreneurs, decide to marshal resources, put together a very strong strategic plan, work with the investment community, the City of Buffalo and the council members, and buy this amazingly large building and set up this rocking store right here in the city,” said Susan McCartney, who directs the Buffalo State center.
It’s the second big investment by Indian immigrants on the block. In September, brothers Lakhi and Mathon Singh bought Frontier Liquor, across the street,
While Vineeta International Foods primarily offers food and spices from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, it stocks plenty of offerings from Indochina, the Middle East and Africa, as well as some dairy and grocery items found in typical Buffalo stores.
Sujata Chauhan said if customers don’t see what they’re looking for, she will try to order it.
Vineeta – named for the Chauhan’s 13-year-old daughter – also offers wholesale prices for small ethnic stores and restaurants.
They plan to add at least one more aisle, more freezer cases, refrigerated cases for produce and to possibly experiment with offering prepared meals.
“Sue and Raj have done a tremendous job,” said Mayor Byron W. Brown. “There are a lot of offerings from India and around the world to serve the growing international community and population we have in the City of Buffalo, and in particular the West Side. I think this will definitely be a catalyst for further development.”
Assemblyman Sean Ryan also hailed the newest addition to a struggling section of Grant Street that’s in transition.
“It’s great in many ways. There are several vacant buildings on Grant Street, but it serves the community, it’s in a long-vacant building, and it shows a great commercial interest. We’ve seen movement,” Ryan said.
Diane Hinman, who lives in Kenmore and works downtown, searched shelves that held roasted fennel seeds, basmati rice, lentils and crushed chili powder, imagining the culinary possibilities.
“I would just love to learn to cook some of these. I found the gee [clarified butter], and specially made noodles, and I’m going to try to construct a recipe after talking to the owner,” Hinman said.