Saskatchewan·REGINA BITES

Convenience stores offer hot meals in Regina neighbourhoods with limited food options

A few independently owned Regina corner stores have started offering homemade takeout, not only satisfying late-night cravings but also filling a gap in residential neighbourhoods with limited options nearby.

Local foodie eats his way through Regina to share his take on what’s good

Paul’s Mini Food Market is one of only a few convenience stores in Regina offering hot takeout meals. (Allan Pulga)

If I were to say "convenience store takeout," it probably conjures up images of 7-Eleven chicken wings and hot dogs — not Indian masala curry. 

But a few independently owned Regina corner stores have started offering homemade takeout, not only satisfying late-night cravings but also filling a gap in residential neighbourhoods with limited options nearby.

Convenience stores like the Ross Food Centre play an important role in ‘food deserts’ like Regina’s Eastview neighbourhood. (Allan Pulga)

This offering is more common in larger cities, where many corner stores serve hot or cold food options prepared in-house, alongside the chewing gum, potato chips and toothpaste on their shelves. Latino bodegas in New York are known for their sandwiches, for example.

In January, a post on Facebook caught the eye of the CBC's Samanda Brace. It spoke of delicious Indian food being sold at a convenience store. It wasn't the first time I'd heard of this kind of thing in Regina. A couple of years ago, I received a tip about "gorgeous shawarma" available at a corner store in North Central. (Sadly, it's not on offer anymore.)

Thus began a personal odyssey: I went hunting near and far in hopes of tracking down all kinds of hidden delights, tucked away in different corners of the city. Unfortunately, it would seem the 'scene' is still in its infancy in Regina, but what I did find was thoroughly enjoyable. 

Paul's Mini Food Market

The Facebook post that sent me on this journey was written by Maureen Olson. 

"If you have a chance to try out Paul's, I recommend it 100%!" she wrote in the I Support Local Business Regina group. "They are takeout only but my son knows that we are getting butter chicken when I tell him we are picking up supper at the candy store, as they are also a convenience store. Paul and his wife are the nicest people and the food is so fresh and delicious!"

Paul's Mini Food Mart is located at 5512 7th Ave. (Allan Pulga)

So, it only made sense to visit Paul and his wife, Suman, on Seventh Avenue in Rosemont. The sign out front lets you know it's a convenience store but the offer of "Paul's Indian Masala Curry" is just as prominent.

I was intrigued by Maureen Olson’s endorsement of the butter chicken, but the sign read ‘masala,’ so I ordered the chicken masala, rice and naan combo. For $9.99 plus tax, the plate offers amazing value for its size. (Allan Pulga)
I also got a couple of samosas. Hot and crispy, they are served with ketchup packets instead of tamarind chutney and were the star of the show. (Allan Pulga)

Olson lives nearby and her son's daycare is about a block-and-a-half away from Paul's, making takeout an easy pickup for her family. 

"It's a personal fave for us," she told me. "Great service and great food. It's a hidden gem. And during the pandemic, I feel like the whole Rosemont community is rallying around the business. We're very lucky to have them in our neighbourhood."

Ross Food Centre

My other stop was the Ross Food Centre on the edge of Regina's industrial area in Eastview. 

The left side of the store is actually a sit-down restaurant, but the chairs are turned upside down for the time being, with eat-in options closed due to COVID restrictions. 

The Ross Food Centre is located at the corner of Fourth Avenue East and McDonald Street. (Allan Pulga)

Drew Patel, the co-owner and manager of the Ross Food Centre, said they offer their native Indian cuisine — butter chicken in particular — but only once in a while. The top sellers are chicken strip platters and burgers, as well as bacon and egg breakfasts. 

I was with my eight-year-old daughter, so it was an easy choice: chicken fingers. 

My daughter and I were impressed. The fries were crispy, the chicken was juicy and the honey dill sauce and gravy were divine. (Allan Pulga)

Patel said their clientele is split 50/50 between industrial area workers and people who live in Eastview. For the latter group, the Ross Food Centre is more than a convenience store: 

"Many residents who live nearby don't own vehicles, so they depend on us for many of their grocery needs as well," he explained. "But they also love our takeout. It feels good because you always want support from the community around you."

Looking back on my short-lived convenience store culinary tour, I can't help but wonder: Are there other hidden gems like these in Regina? If you know of such a place, comment below. Whether it's homemade meals inspired by their culture or Western lunch counter favourites, I'm hungry for more.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allan Pulga is Regina-based PR and communications consultant with a healthy appetite – for food and sneakers. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @poonisms.

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