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Editor’s note: Immigrants in Minnesota start their own businesses for a lot of reasons. Some immigrants run into barriers finding jobs that pay fair wages and provide a good living; others may have education and professional training that’s hard to use in the U.S.
Many immigrants come to Minnesota with ambitions and talents that feed into entrepreneurship. They want to be their own boss; they want to create wealth for their family and build a community asset.
This ongoing Sahan Journal series will highlight the experiences, challenges, and successes of immigrant business owners—in their own words.
We’d like to share your business story, too. If you’re an immigrant business owner or entrepreneur, please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Feel free to suggest a favorite business we should write about, too.) Please use the subject line “Making It in Minnesota.”
Thanks to Herman and Faith Rott, the new proprietors of Filipino Village Grocery Store, in Mounds View, for opening their doors and inviting us to visit.
And with that introduction behind us, we’re in business.
About a year and a half ago, with the pandemic raging and many people avoiding restaurants, husband and wife Herman and Faith Rott decided it was a good time to open a grocery store.
Herman, who came to the U.S. from the Philippines as a 16-year-old adoptee in 1997, already had entrepreneurial experience. Since 2006, he has been his own boss, selling and installing swimming pools, pool tables, and other recreation-oriented products.
COVID hurt that business, so Herman decided to diversify. His wife, Faith, signed on, too: She grew up in the same Philippines community as Herman and moved to Minnesota in 2012.
Their plan: Sell hard-to-get specialty items, mostly imported, to Minnesota’s small but fast-growing Filipino community—fresh produce like malunggay, puto cheese, baked goods like pan de sal and pichi-pichi, and prepared meats like chorizo de Cebu.
The couple rented a long-vacant storefront in the north metro suburb of Mounds View. They set up shop in a mostly residential neighborhood a few blocks north of Mounds View Boulevard, the city’s main drag. After four months of renovations, the Filipino Village Grocery Store opened to the public in November 2020.
Herman reports that the neighborhood has been supportive of the venture and business has been good. Here’s what he says about how he got his endeavor off the ground:
Don’t be afraid to tear things up: “The building was empty for about six years, so it was in rough shape. We had to tear it down to the concrete. Took out all the walls. The ceiling. The floor. Everything. I did most of it myself. A couple guys helped. We are still remodeling for an expansion, with a kitchen and a little party room. Once in a while, we can have a little live music and, at the same time, serve hot meals.”
Savings, not debt (and keep a side hustle going): “We did it from our savings, so we don’t have any loans from the bank. That’s the good side. We don’t have any debt from the store, and I still have my other business. Today, I’m delivering a pool table to Center City.”
Waiting for the boat to come in: “We like to see our shelves stocked and filled. When we have customers driving for hours, we want to make sure we have what they want. But our one problem is getting our product. Most of it is from the Philippines. We have the same problem as other industries. A lot of our product is stuck on a boat. But our customers have been understanding.
“We have once a month delivery from Chicago. I also drive to Chicago once a month because some products are more expensive for us if they are delivered.”
Being the boss means covering all the shifts: “We have one full-time employee, my sister-in-law. Recently, we hired an American from the neighborhood. He came in and was very interested. He works three times a week. The rest, my wife or I cover.”
If you have malunggay, Filipino customers will drive in from North Dakota: “Business is pretty good. About 90 percent of our customers are Filipino. We draw from everywhere. We get people from North Dakota, Iowa, Duluth, Hibbing, Wisconsin.
“That’s the thing about Filipino food: It’s unique. When you’re Filipino, you don’t care if it’s three hours away. You’ll drive and get groceries for a month.”
Filipino Village Grocery Store, 2408 County Rd I, Mounds View, Minn.; (612) 850-0542.