'Like coming home': Filipino supermarket brings favourite foods to Winnipeggers

Fried food, barbecue and loads of sweet snacks fill the aisles of Seafood City, much to the delight of thousands of Filipinos, who will now have an opportunity to taste the food of their homeland in Winnipeg.

Seafood City's Garden City location is only 2nd store in Canada

Eddie Ocampo stands at the front of the line after he arrived around 4 a.m. — five hours before the store's opening. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Hundreds of Winnipeggers have been lined up for hours, eagerly awaiting the grand opening of a new supermarket focused on the food and flavours of the Philippines.

A winding line of some 500 people snaked through the hallway outside of Seafood City at 7:30 a.m. Thursday even though the store wasn't set to open until 9 a.m. By the time the doors opened, there were more than 800.

At the head of the line was Eddie Ocampo, who staked his place at 4 a.m.

"I'm the early bird, so I'm gonna get the $1 rice," he said, adding he is looking forward to being able to buy items that have never been available in the city before.

"Everything is in here."

Fried food, barbecue and loads of sweet Filipino snacks fill the aisles of Seafood City, which only has one other location in the country — in Mississauga, Ont.

Lourdes Federis, the organizer of Food Trip Winnipeg, is ecstatic that she now can get her hands on her childhood favourite foods at Seafood City. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

"This is really a good store if I want to get the Filipino feel, and it's been a while since I've been back home, so it would be nice to just come and experience that," said customer Shel Tejones, who got in line at 6:30 a.m.

"This is going to be a really good addition to the community [and] it will showcase the Filipinos to the other cultures here," she said. "Come on down, experience the Filipino goodness."

As for what type of food she expects to find that she can't get elsewhere, Tejones said, "Oh my goodness, there are so many."

In particular, however, she recommended bagnet.

"It's pork, it's huge and it's just deep-fried goodness. You can mix it with anything. It's definitely a specialty that everybody has been waiting for."

1st store opened in California

The family-owned business opened its first location in National City, Calif., in 1989 and now has 28 stores in California, Washington, Hawaii, Illinois and Nevada, along with the Mississauga store, which opened in 2017.

The Winnipeg store is in the former Sears location at Garden City Mall.

"I feel more at home right now, seeing all these brands that I used to support and I grew up with in the Philippines. It's exciting times," said Lourdes Federis, founder of Food Trip — a festival of Asian food held every year in Winnipeg.

Mildred Smith, Seafood City's marketing director, said the company decided to expand to Winnipeg in hopes of providing the large Filipino community a reminder of what they're missing out on.

"[The] reason for our existence is to give the Filipino Canadians the experience specially of like coming home, everything they miss from home," she said.

Customers line up outside Seafood City at Garden City Mall on Thursday morning. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The Winnipeg supermarket also has three fast food restaurants in its 43,000-square-foot location, with plans to add a bakery in the coming months.

Dozens of aisles feature snack foods, grocery items and even the odd houseware item, mostly imported directly from the Philippines. But the store isn't exclusive to just Filipino food, as its shelves are stocked with a variety of different pan-Asian food and drinks.

Since moving from Manila 13 years ago, Federis has been deeply involved in the culinary world in Winnipeg and has anxiously been waiting for a market where she can do all her shopping.

"[They] have products imported directly from the Philippines, which is very hard to do if you are just a small brand," Federis said. "We were looking for the original, authentic Filipino food that we used to try at home."

Seafood City opens its doors:

Hundreds of Winnipeggers have been lined up for hours, eagerly awaiting the grand opening of a new supermarket focused on the food and flavours of the Philippines. 1:30

When she first moved to Winnipeg, language and culture were hard things for her to understand, but Federis believes food is the easiest way to remove barriers.

"You're a total stranger, everything is so different weather-wise, and the culture is so diverse. It's so hard to get around," she said. "With food you can easily start a conversation."

Federis says the local economy should receive a little boost from the opening of Seafood City, noting the contingent of out-of-town media attending Tuesday's soft opening.

"I see a lot of Filipino community coming from Saskatchewan.… That just shows the strength of the brand," she said.

Seafood City is opening its first location in Winnipeg on Thursday. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

For the past few years, the growing Filipino community in Winnipeg, largely located in the northern part of the city, has been directly contacting Smith, urging her to come to Winnipeg.

"People actually [would] email us, 'When are you going to have a store near you? Oh we need you here,'" said Smith.

But, the goal of Seafood City is not to cater just to Filipinos, but to get into the hearts and bellies of all Winnipeggers.

"Celebrating through Filipino goodness, that's what we want to spread, we want to share [it] with the world," Smith said.

Mildred Smith, the marketing director for Seafood City, says Winnipeggers have been urging the company to open a location in the city for years. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

If Winnipeggers are not sure what to eat, Smith said they can't go wrong with trying some food from the store's restaurants. 

"Filipino barbecue, that's what we're really known for," said Smith.

As for expansion to the rest of Canada, Smith said the company will be opening locations in Calgary and Scarborough, Ont.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson

By Ahmar Khan and Darren Bernhardt