Blast from the Past: Paraiso South’s expansion story

Born from client demand & a need for space

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Photo: Gela Cabrera Loa

Exactly thirty years ago in the month of April, Paraiso Tropical Latin Market was born – first beginning in Chinatown just a block or so away from Sacred Heart School before eventually moving to Alberta Avenue.

However, there’s another birth story that is less known: that of Paraiso South on Calgary Trail, which had a soft launch in November 2014 but had an official opening a few months later in February 2015.

So what influenced this family business to expand?

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Photo: Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

“It was two-fold,” explains current owner Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr. “We had a lot of people – that were from south Edmonton coming to north Edmonton – asking us to open up a shop in the south. So that was one of the main drivers – [people were telling us that it] was too far to come to the north to do their shopping.

“And at that time, we needed more space as well to exhibit our select variety of products,” he adds, saying that the south location’s space allowed the Paraiso team to open up a warehouse, giving the business an ability to bring in a larger quantity of products as well.

Paraiso Tropical’s co-owner and Gonzalez Rivas Jr.’s wife, Bruna Campos Gonzalez, had arrived in Canada just when the south store had opened. She notes that she’s aware that there had been talks about moving the north store before the idea of expansion came into existence.

“[The Paraiso family] didn’t want to leave the avenue in the north end [Alberta Avenue]. We grew there. We wanted to stay there,” she says. “[So] why not get a warehouse with a storefront and then just make it a second store?”

And so the Paraiso team began shopping around for an additional – rather than a replacement – space from the late half of 2012 up to 2013.

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Photo: Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

Searching for the ideal location & space

“We wanted to have a location that was highly visible, so [with] Calgary Trail, it gets a lot of traffic. And it has a lot of visibility,” Gonzalez Rivas Jr. recalls the reason behind the eventual location of choice. “We didn’t want [the new store] written off in a community per say. We wanted it along a main corridor.”

Fortunately, the opportunity happened to present itself just at the right time.

“That space [on Calgary Trail] was available to us, and it was exactly the same size that we were looking for. It just fit in with all the things that we were looking for,” says Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

When asked about the challenges that came with the process of expanding the business, he can’t help but laugh with a hint of overwhelm, as if not sure where to begin.

“Gosh! We still are a small business, but we were a smaller business [then], right? Jesus [Gonzalez Sr.] and Alba [Gonzalez] – my parents – were more actively involved at that time in the decision-making process [but] not so much now,” begins Gonzalez Rivas Jr, saying that transitioning from a small, purely family-run business to having to look for new team members was a big challenge in itself.

“When you’re talking of challenges, there were so many – like we’re talking about working with a bigger team. We’re talking about, you know, all the bureaucracy of opening up a new business…” he says with an exasperated laugh, “…basically having to now manage two locations instead of one location.”

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Photo: Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

Piecing the puzzle with the right people

As he continues to reflect, Gonzalez Rivas Jr. admits that the biggest challenge is always having to find the right team members.

“You can’t do it all by yourself, right? So you need to have key people in there that align with your vision and are able to take [that vision] forward. And it was a huge learning curve for me, especially [in] making sure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, perfectly.”

One of those key people is Natalia Marcenaro, who has been Paraiso South’s manager for the last three years, making sure that everything is in order. From recruiting new staff to working on employee schedules to updating prices, as well as bookkeeping, creating sales reports, and receiving shipments, her job is nothing short of complex, and it’s definitely not one-note.

“Everything that is, let’s say, in the back office, I manage that,” Marcenaro summarizes, before giving an understatement. “Also, I give customer service, so it’s a little bit of multitasking.”

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Photo: Kristina de Guzman

Born in Los Angeles of Salvadoran parents who were escaping El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s, Marcenaro’s parents, Romulo and Ana Marcenaro decided to give Canada a try, moving the entire family to Saskatoon where they stayed for about twelve years.

“And then the civil war ended and my parents wanted to go back to El Salvador and see family – just to visit,” Marcenaro shares. “But we ended up going back there [permanently], so we stayed there for more than twenty years.

“And then about three years ago, we decided as a family to come, all together, back to Canada and we came to Edmonton.”

A lasting friendship over time & distance

A little known fact is that Paraiso Tropical began with four people: Gonzalez Rivas Jr.’s parents and Marcenaro’s parents as well. The two families are close family friends. In fact, Paraiso’s very first logo was created by Ana Marcenaro.

“However, opening up a new business and hoping to support more than one family with that business was more challenging than [my parents] had thought ,” Marcenaro explains. “So my family decided to sell their stake in the business and go back to El Salvador and Jesus [Sr.] and Alba continued on with the business.”

Despite the distance and passing of time, The two families managed to stay in contact.

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Photo: Rubén Contreras

“[My family and I] were seeing if it was a good idea to come back to Canada – because the situation in El Salvador was changing again a little bit [and] we wanted a better life for our son and my sister also,” Marcenaro says, reflecting on her and her family’s reasoning for returning to Canada.

She was in conversation with Gonzalez Rivas Jr. at the time and he came up with an idea: why not come here to Edmonton and work together?

“That helped a lot for us to make the decision to say, ‘Yeah, we’re gonna help and see what we can do,’ because [Jesus Jr.] was telling us that he was basically managing all the stores with Bruna by himself since his parents had retired,” recalls Marcenaro.

In El Salvador, Marcenaro happened to have studied Business Administration. Talk about the right opportunity at the right time!

“It’s very weird, because I’ve never worked in a retail store,” she admits. “All my life, I worked with an airline – also doing administration work – but it’s totally different.

With the airline, I would be in an office with my computer just working and doing reports or whatever,” Marcenaro elaborates. “And I did negotiations with big [clients] like hotels, rental cars, things like that. So the type of client is very different.”

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Photo: Rubén Contreras

For these clients, she had also provided customer service, but she points out that it’s much different from dealing and interacting with store customers. But there’s an even bigger distinction between working for an airline and working in a grocery store.

“I think the biggest difference is that physical change for me to being up front like holding boxes, stocking shelves…” Marcenaro says with a laugh. “It’s more physical for me now.”

What makes Paraiso South unique?

Unlike the northside location that Jesus Gonzalez Sr. and Alba Gonzalez initiated and worked hard on to develop and nurture, Gonzalez Rivas Jr. considers the south store more of his project.

“I had this idea of providing something else to the broader community and I wanted to portray that with the south store. So it became like a personal project of mine and therefore, it felt like a bigger responsibility on my part.”

Part of the research involved Gonzalez Rivas Jr. talking to others in the business community and understanding the reality of business growth.

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Photo: Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

“I always knew that when you’re opening up a new store, it’s not as easy as it seems, and it takes a while for the business to really gain some roots,” he shares. “So I knew that the first three years were gonna be challenging in establishing ourselves and getting recognition.”

Although adding a south location came in part from customer need, the process of the community getting to know that there was even a south store was gradual.

“I had customers that would go from the southside to the north store, not knowing that we had the south store,” remembers Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

Over the last few years, the two Paraiso Tropical locations have developed their own unique characters.

“We have a lot more Canadians [and] non-Latin people in the south store compared to the north store,” observes Campos Gonzalez.

Gonzalez Rivas Jr. echoes similar thoughts.

“I think the south store has been better embraced by the Edmonton population as a whole,” he shares. “The Hispanic community has a strong affinity to the north.”

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Photo: Rubén Contreras

Both also describe similar sentiments on the feel and character of each store.

“Because we have more space [in the south], we get to be a bit more organized, so it has a different feel than if you go to the north store,” Campos Gonzalez reflects. “I find that the north store has almost a more authentic feel as if it’s a store in Latin America, like a small bodega [grocery store] in Latin America.

“Whereas in the south store, I think it resembles more [of a] bigger supermarket. So I think [the two stores] have that difference: one is more quaint and one is more organized,” she settles with a laugh.

Different community, different needs

With the passing of time and with more people finding out about Paraiso South, customer preferences and needs become more obvious.

“[Paraiso South] is unique, because we really learned the different markets as well within the different communities of Edmonton,” Gonzalez Rivas Jr. recollects.

“We just try to understand [these preferences] and kind of play towards the strengths of each store,” adds Campos Gonzalez. “For example, if we have people that have a better knowledge of English – but they have to speak Spanish as well – we usually hire them for the south store.

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Photo: Kristina de Guzman

“And then if somebody speaks primarily Spanish and is trying to develop their English, we usually put them in the north store, because the majority of our customers in the north store do not speak English.”

An interesting conflict arises for the Paraiso recruitment team when it comes to considering non-Spanish-speaking job candidates as potential employees.

“Sometimes, we wanna hire somebody that just does not speak any Spanish, but it’s really hard…” Campos Gonzalez takes a moment to clarify. “If you don’t speak Spanish, it’s like…it doesn’t roll well for that [Spanish-speaking] customer. We do want to be more inclusive that way but it’s hard sometimes, because the customer base requests the Spanish.”

However, one could argue that the fact that the Latino store prioritizes the needs of its customers – which primarily consists of Spanish-speaking immigrants who may have limited or no knowledge of English, along with hiring people who may also have limited to no English skills and would otherwise have challenges in finding work in a primarily dominant English-speaking workforce – is, by nature, inclusive.

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Photo: Paraiso Tropical album

“Canadians who don’t speak Spanish [or] have little knowledge – they come, they try!” shares Campos Gonzalez. “[The staff] love that.”

If you want to practice your Spanish, Paraiso is the perfect place to do so!

“We answer [the customers] in Spanish. We’ll slowly translate [something] – say it in Spanish but then say it in English for the people that want that – so that’s a cool thing about our stores,” Campos Gonzalez says.

Being from Brazil, she’s also noticed that Paraiso’s southside location has more Brazilian customers compared to the north store and, as a result, the south store carries a larger quantity of Brazilian products.

Unique take-out food

In addition, the Paraiso team tries to distinguish both stores by having different menu items.

“We sell tacos in the south store, but we don’t sell tacos in the north store,” Campos Gonzalez gives one example.

A couple of months ago, Paraiso South’s kitchen also added the popular Brazilian street food coxinhas (deep-fried chicken croquettes in which chicken is typically shredded and covered in dough shaped like a drumstick before going through the deep-fry cooking method); empanadas dulces de guava con queso (sweet guava empanadas with cheese); and bowls of chili to its menu – items that are not available at the northside for take-out.

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Photo:Rubén Contreras

Similar to the kitchen menu, Paraiso South also carries extra products that are not sold in the north store.

“We have a few extra products now that we will not sell in the north store and that also comes down to space, right? Because we can,” says Campos Gonzalez. “It diversifies things.”

Paraiso Tropical turns 30!

On April 30th, the Paraiso team began initiating projects for the celebration of its 30th anniversary for both stores, including a chance to win a $500 gift card contest by taking a selfie with Paraiso’s special logo lady, Maria! Be sure to follow the store’s social media channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) for more information! There are plans to roll out more initiatives throughout the year. Who says the celebration for such a special and well-deserved milestone only has to last a day or even a month?

Reflecting back on Paraiso South and considering that he’s been there from its beginnings to today, Gonzalez Rivas Jr. can’t help but think of the store as a special character.

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Photo: Rubén Contreras

“Whereas the first store was more like my parents’ baby, [the south store] is kind of like my baby,” he says with a chuckle.

“Thankfully, we’re now in the position where the store is really sustainable. It’s growing and it’s exactly what we envisioned for it to be. And it’s been very successful. But it’s not something that happened overnight.”

By the way, in case you’re not already aware, we recently extended store & kitchen hours for both locations to better serve our customers & align with the schedules of other grocery stores:

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Graphic: Gelopolis

Paraiso Tropical – Southside

6926-104 Street NW, Edmonton, AB

Mondays to Saturdays: 9:00am-8:00pm

Sundays & Holidays: 11:00am-4:00pm


Paraiso Tropical – Northside

9136-118 Avenue NW, Edmonton, AB

Mondays to Saturdays: 9:00am-8:00pm

Sundays & Holidays: 11:00am-4:00pm


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