"I want to smack you in the face with freshness and abundance," says CEO Tina Lee.
T&T Supermarket, the largest Asian grocery store chain in Canada, with 29 locations across B.C., Alberta and Ontario, is expanding into Quebec.
Known for stocking an array of pan-Asian products, from Filipino sinigang soup to Korean gochujang sauce, the company has announced its intention to open a location somewhere on the Island of Montreal sometime in 2023 and is looking to hire over 300 workers.
And though it's owned by the Loblaws grocery store colossus, T&T Supermarket remains a family business.
It was founded in Vancouver in 1993 by Cindy Lee, a Chinese immigrant, who named it after her daughters, Tiffany and Tina, its current CEO, who started with the company as a grocery bagger and took the reins when her mother retired in 2014.
"I do have a brother, his name is Jason, but TT&J just doesn't sound as nice," she told MTL Blog.
Breaking into a new market
Breaking into a new market is a tough test in the life of any business, said Lee, but T&T sees promise in Montreal as "it's the second-largest city in the country with a decent Asian population."
"We knew that we had a following that lived in Montreal because on the weekends we would often see a lot of Quebec licence plates at our store in Ottawa, like they would take the two-hour drive to our closest store and stock up," she said.
As this will be its first store in Quebec, the company stated it "will ensure the respect of the provincial laws and regulations in force with respect to the French language, in terms of signage, communications with employees and customers, and advertising."
"This also applies to the packaging of all products that will be sold in our stores which will need to have a bilingual label," it noted in an emailed statement. "T&T can count on the support and expertise of Loblaws, which already operates many stores in Quebec."
Chip aisles abound with unique flavours
Shopping at a T&T Supermarket is more than a typical trip to the grocery store, "it's an experience," said Lee.
"When you walk into a T&T store, I want to smack you in the face with freshness and abundance and amazing ingredients that you couldn't buy at your typical Metro," she said.
The store will carry hard-to-find and exotic fruits, vegetables and fresh mushrooms, she said.
There's also an in-store bakery, a feature Lee hopes Montrealers will enjoy. "I highly recommend people test our bakery cakes because they're less sweet than the typical supermarket cake and they're fresh-made daily."
Other conveniences include hot food stations offering everything from Chinese barbecue to bao sandwiches and a seafood department with "a row of fish tanks that have enough water in them to fill your backyard swimming pool," Lee explained.
No visit is complete without some iconic Asian snacks and the T&T plentiful chip aisles abound with unique flavours. There are, for instance, scallop-flavoured chips, salted egg yolk chips, wasabi chips and crab chips, but that’s just scratching the surface, said Lee.
They're looking to hire over 300 people
The company is also getting an early start with recruiting and training the store's management team.
Lee said they're looking for people with grocery retail experiences, "plus, I really would like to hire a management team that speaks French and has a passion to discover Asian flavours."
Recruits will have to go through a long training process at an existing T&T store — the nearest to Montreal is in Ottawa.
"I think this is what is difficult about crossing into new provinces with new languages," said Lee.
As the store opens, the company will hire over 300 people to join the team.
"We also want to open up our sourcing to local vendors," said Lee. "There are lots of smaller Asian food manufacturers that are located in Quebec that we have yet to connect with, so we very much are open for them to reach out to us and introduce themselves."