The little London grocery store where food isn't just nutrition — it's connection
'I'm happy that I'm able to help people not having to travel so far a distance,' says owner
Tucked into a storefront at a small plaza on Kipps Lane, the bright colours of red scotch bonnet peppers, ripe mangoes and yellow plantains greet all who enter this small Caribbean grocery store —and so does Tashara Williams, the smiling owner of the Irie Market.
"I'm happy that I'm able to help people not having to travel so far a distance to get things in a city they just moved to, being able to navigate a new town and get things that are a comfort to you," she said.
Williams only opened her doors four months ago, and so far she has a happy and growing customer base, most of them among the ever-increasing transplants from the Toronto area who have moved west, looking for relief from high Greater Toronto Area real estate prices and a better quality of life outside the hustle and bustle of Ontario's biggest city.
"I have to drive to Toronto to get my food," said Richard Harper, who is willing to drive 2½ hours for a taste of childhood, but no longer has to because of Williams's store.
'This is a Godsend'
"I'm telling you right now this is a Godsend," he said. "I came in here and saw the plantain, and they were just calling my name — so fresh."
Harper, who moved to London from the Toronto area only a few years ago, had to make regular trips to his old stomping grounds to get the best Caribbean food. Now, with everything from imported breadfruit to locally sourced oxtail only a 20-minute drive away, he no longer has to do that. It's a service Williams saw a niche for and is happy to provide.
"It's important to provide things that are well sourced and are real. People can be confident in what they're eating," she said. "I want to be confident in what I'm selling."
The food she offers isn't just about nourishment, it's about a cultural and community connection. Providing comfort food — food that gives pleasure when we feel low, is steeped in memory and culture, and a taste that is highly personal — runs in Williams's blood.
Her mother, Rose, is the owner of Rose's Tree of Life, a restaurant that serves Jamaican food at two locations in the city.
"My mother has always been in the community in a silent way. She always had people in her house. She would take people who were kicked out [of their homes]. She would teach them how to cook," Williams said. "I knew that I wanted to connect with the community, but I wanted to do it in a different way."
Williams set off on her journey five months ago. She was working as a nurse at St. Joseph's Healthcare when her infant son, Anjo, died not long after birth. She decided to hit pause on her nursing career and tapped into her inner entrepreneur to help give the city's Jamaican and Caribbean diaspora more of what it wants.
"After my son passed away and doing therapy, I learned that my gift is giving," she said. "With food, we all have to eat and people from the Caribbean it's a home shock, right? They're always looking for food to prepare meals so they can make it feel like home again, and that's why I wanted to open this grocery store and connect again.
"I absolutely love nursing. I'll be back, I just love being out in the community too."