May 05, 2015 News & Features » Cover Story

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The Global Market 

Along a strip-malled stretch of West Broad Street stands a microcosm of the South's diversity explosion.

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click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Tetyana “Tania” Nikolayeva, 57
Owner, Royal European Deli

I am from Ukraine. For 40 years I live in Odessa. This is north, near the Black Sea. It’s a very comfortable city for life and it’s very, very good. [In 1991] the Soviet Union was broken and the financial situation was very bad. My husband is Valentyn Nikolayev. He is a figure-skating coach and he was the second coach to [1994 Olympic figure skating champion] Oksana Baiul.

It was a terrible time in the Ukraine. Every ice rink closed and a famous coach recommended to my husband that we move to Richmond. A new ice rink, SkateNation, had opened and it was a good contract. On Dec. 17, 1997, me, my husband and our son and daughter, we are coming to America.

I can’t forget what it was like to move here. First, like highways, it’s to me, it was like wow, this is very, very cool, these highways. Big and well paved. But it was like, ah, big shock. My roots were in the Ukraine. It’s like tree, you move from one place to other place. You need time for new roots.

I started working here in the deli in 1999 and the owner, Maria Wroblewski — she was Polish — she was not like my boss, but my friend. She tell me, “I know you can do this.” She was killed in a car accident in 2001. Her death was very hard and her husband tells me, “I want to sell the store,” and that was another shock.

The store was like air to me. So, I know my English is not too good, and I don’t have enough time to work full time and we don’t have money and we didn’t have a credit history. But we had friends. And everybody help us. Most of all, Oksana Baiul. Also my friend from here, his family they have the first Russian store in Richmond. They help me from morning to night. It was scary. It was exciting. It was everything all together. It was my university.

I try to keep stock for everybody, I have Russian customers — I say Russian but I mean Russian-speaking people, like Ukrainian, Belarusian. I have customers who are Bulgarian, German, and many Romanian customers. And Americans. The most important thing here is bread, sausage, fish, cheese, cakes. I have a very good cheese from the Baltic Republic and imported pig salami from Hungary. For Russian people, bread is very important and I was very happy when I saw this bread. It comes from Germany. We just defrost and bake. We have to have a special oven for this. It’s with steam. We have rye, crusty rye, 50 percent rye and wheat, and small, white rolls. German people like small, white rolls. And me, too.

There are many Russian students at VCU and sometimes they come in and say, “Do you have recipes about borscht?” I say, yes, of course. I remember one guy, he was from Georgia, the Republic, not the state, and when he finish his school, he come in and say, “Thank you for everything, you were like my mom.” I cry. He cries. This is my life. It is my baby.

 

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist

Manuela “Mila” Fat, 55
Owner, Tindahan Filipino and Asian Market

I am from Cebu city in the Philippines. We first came here to Richmond as tourists in 1999. When we first came here, I don’t have anybody. I don’t know anybody. I came to Richmond because someone from my hometown where I was born was here and I was referred to them. We loved it, but we could not stay because we are tourists, but along the way, we met our future sponsor, and in 2001 I was able to come back on a work visa.

My husband, Celestino, and I came together. It was very tough. I left my children in the Philippines for about two years until I could bring them. I have five children. My eldest was 19 at that time. My youngest was just 5 years old. But my eldest and my second child were very responsible. All of my children are responsible because they were raised, you know, life is hard. They understand what life is at an early stage.

I had a very nice job in the Philippines. I had a business. It was like a cash lending place. When I come to America, I even cried the first time I held a mop because back there, I don’t clean. I only tell people to clean. But I moved here for my children. I saw opportunity here. If you just work hard and be diligent of what you do, there are so much nice things that will happen to you here.

Since I came here, I delivered collection letters, sold vacuum cleaners, worked at convenience store full time as a cashier and then I became an assistant manager. I also worked at the Omni as a security officer for about a year. Now, I am an EEG technician at VCU. I come here after work. My husband works at Coca-Cola and he comes here in the morning.

We opened the store in November 2010. This is too much work, honestly, but we are just enjoying it because people, when they want to meet someone they say, oh, let’s go to Tindahan. I like bringing people together.

I stock mostly Filipino products. We have hot food in the back. The menudo is most popular. I don’t know if it’s like Mexican menudo because I have not tasted Mexican menudo. Ours has pork shoulder or pork butt and it’s cooked with a tomato sauce and mixed with carrots, peas and potatoes. I do the cooking with my daughter. If you are a person who loves coffee, I would introduce you to the galletas. It’s a cookie. We have a very popular cracker here, too, Sky Flakes. This is a very good snack.

Probably 90 percent of the customers are Filipino. The population of Filipinos is highest here in the West End, followed by Chesterfield, Mechanicsville and Midlothian. But I am the only market. Sometimes people walk in the store and they say, “Oh, we never know you are here!”

This store is the recognition. It is the recognition of our culture and our traditions. Recognition of the way we cook our food. Basically, it’s like, hey, we are here. Please know us. S

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