Toucan International Market owner talks history of business, challenges of running store
This week the Herald speaks to Jeanette Wyatt, owner, along with her husband, Bill, of Toucan International Market at 1826 S. Washington St., Suite 62, in the Grand Cities Mall, in Grand Forks.
Q: How long have you been here and how did you get started in this business?
A: I’m from the Philippines, and I missed my food. (I came here) in 1977. December 24. The first time I came to the U.S. I was so sad, I just wanted to go back to the Philippines, because you can go to the market and you can buy whatever you want. Here, I had to wait for my husband because I couldn’t drive back then. I was miserable, I was hungry and I just wanted to go back home. So it got better, and I could go to the grocery store, but the stuff was not the same. The rice was not the same. It’s a totally different flavor. There are some items that I really like but I couldn’t find them until I owned the store. It was probably meant to be, because I’m very hard-headed and stubborn and it has to be my way, so I could never keep a job for very long. So this came along. It used to be owned by Dan Gust; that’s who I bought it from, and it’s been 18 years.
Q: What are your most popular items?
A: It depends really on where the customer is from. My thing is Filipino food. I try to bring a little bit of everything. I mean it’s not making me rich. I make a little bit of money and I get what I want. That’s about it.
Q: What can you tell us about your customers?
A: My best supporters for the business? White people. They love my store. They are my best customers. They are very friendly, very supportive, very positive for me and very proud of me. They love the store. They’re asking me not to close.
Q: What did you find especially challenging about owning your own business?
A: My time. I don’t have the time to clean my house. I don’t want to invite you to my house. (If I don’t have an item), I’ll try to see if I can do it. Something that I don’t know, honestly, I’ll try it. I’ll ask my distributor. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to run a business. Especially all by myself. I do all the ordering, and my husband does the paperwork. What’s the hardest part? The hardest part is to deal with my distributor. It’s very hard to deal with because of the language, though English is my second language, but … if I’m ordering from Japan, we hardly understand each other, or from Korea, but it’s OK. Even the Filipinos, we don’t understand each other because she might be coming from a different part of the Philippines. The ordering part, the tracking is so hard. The frozen stuff is so expensive to get here. I don’t deal with produce. It’s a losing game for me. Produce needs to have somebody to tend it so it’s looks nice and appealing to the customers. Special order only, and you have to buy it all.
Q: What do you have in store for the future?
A: My grandkids really like it. Especially this one (she points to a photo of her grandson). He’s the oldest. He’s already in college now and he said: “Grandma, don’t sell the store I want it. I want to take over.” So, yeah, that’s the future.