Latinos Unidos sells enticing array of staples and sweets
NORTH CANAAN â€” A new and intriguing market has opened on Railroad Street, its shelves holding a treasure trove of interesting foods and other products. A trip down the aisle sparks a desire to try something different, or to put a more authentic spin on some ethnic favorites.
Latinos Unidos, in the space most recently occupied by Marilyâ€™s Boutique, has been steadily building a customer base since it opened two months ago. It has the same owners as the boutique, Marily and John McDowd.
The store is festive and charming. Sparkling clean is how they intend to keep things. The gleaming dark wood floors, lighting, piÃ±atas (for sale) and colorful flags from various countries make it a warm and inviting place. The same goes for the owners and staff. Marily greets Hispanic customers in her native Spanish.
This is not exactly what the McDowds had planned to be doing. They and their almost-6-year-old daughter, Nicole, had planned to move to Virginia Beach last spring. John had a great job lined up there. They closed the boutique, which had been open for seven years, and packed up their North Canaan home.
Just days before the scheduled move, the company downsized and moved to Tennessee.
The family unpacked, found other employment, and tried to sell the commercial building.
â€œWe had some interest, but no one wanted to take a chance in this economy,â€ John said. â€œWe finally decided to take a gamble and reopen a business. We knew it couldnâ€™t be a boutique again. We just canâ€™t compete with stores like Wal-Mart.â€
Already, it appears to be worthwhile: The store is paying for itself.
As its name suggests, itâ€™s a coming together of food from various Latin nations. Their goal is to have products from every South American country. There is quite a distinction, and the store owners rely on their customers to let them know what they should stock on their shelves.
Marily is from Columbia, and some of the foods are things she grew up with. Others are not, but careful research and advice from vendors is continuing to guide them.
Marily said she is amazed at the number of Hispanic products she never heard of before. Canned cactus, for example, which she has been told is great in scrambled eggs.
Raw sugar cane sells well. She believes it is similar to the cane she peeled and chewed when visiting sugar plantations as a child.
There is the familiar Goya brand label on many foods. There are Nestle products (notably, the Mexican chocolate that is used for beverages and mole sauce) and Berio extra virgin olive oil.
There is strong coffee from Puerto Rico, Italy and Columbia, and there are espresso pots.
Those who prefer cocoa with their morning meal can buy bricks of chocolate, break off a piece, drop it in a pot of hot milk and mash it to foamy goodness with a wooden mallet. All the necessary equipment is sold at Latinos Unidos.
There are natural energy drinks, tropical fruit nectars and nutritious frozen juice concentrates, perfect for making smoothies.
Lobster pots, sold at the store, can be used for steaming tamales. Corn husks and plantain leaves are for sale to wrap those tamales. There is candy for the sweet tooth and Heath snack items for the lunch box.
Fresh eggs come from a flock of North Canaan hens, often collected by Nicole, for whom the novelty has yet to wear off.
A selection of pre-paid calling cards hangs behind the cash register. They are a staple item for local residents who have family in Latin American countries.
There are many things to discover on the shelves. The McDowds are working on trying out all their products in their own kitchen. They even sell a line of inexpensive carbon steel pans and griddles that they have used with great success.
One of their customers recently received a license needed to bring in authentic Hispanic-style food. Customers will soon be able to grab foods from the cooler and bring them home to reheat and eat.
And those sweet handmade baby items the boutique used to sell? An assortment of those can still be found here as well.
One of the greatest surprises is the prices. While they canâ€™t meet wholesale minimums on their own, a family member who regularly travels near their supplier picks up small quantities of product at wholesale prices. Those savings are passed along.
So far, most customers are shopping here for one meal at a time, but as they discover new items and ways to use them, more people are making larger shopping trips.
Latinos Unidos is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.