Some newcomers to Cape Breton are bringing a little piece of their homelands to the island by building businesses geared toward the international community.
There are thousands of international students living in Sydney, N.S., and surrounding areas to attend Cape Breton University and some are shopping for products from home.
When Elena Hernandez Young moved to Canada in 1995, she couldn’t readily find products from the Philippines, so she opened Elena’s Esthetics and Asian Market in Sydney to do just that.
“Leaving from home is a big challenge enough, you’re away from your family and then the weather is so different and then the food…. So in order to feel like you’re home, it’s good to bring our food here so that we feel like we’re not missing a lot of stuff,” she told CBC in an interview.
Hernandez Young said it was difficult at first, but with patience, her business started thriving. Now, both locals and newcomers are excited by her products.
“[Otherwise] we have to travel five hours to Halifax to find our own taste from home,” she said.
When she noticed Cape Breton’s Filipino population increasing, she thought, “Why not open this door at the same time. I wanted to help my own people just stay here instead of travelling,” she said.
She said new students are especially excited about the products at the market.
“They are very amazed, they never even think that we’re going to have food from home and they are very, very happy to see the store. They thank us for carrying the products and they enjoy it so much,” Hernandez Young said.
She also took cosmetology courses in Canada and the spa portion of her business offers skin, nail and body care. She said she wants people to feel good in their bodies, even if they are far from home.
“The people here are so friendly, so it’s not hard to get along and to talk to people here because I feel like I’m home,” she said.
The advice she gives to other newcomers who want to start a business is to do some research.
“I always say to research first before doing something…. Don’t start big, always start small and see how the market is going to go. That’s what I did,” Hernandez Young said.
In another part of Sydney, Sutha Nimales and her family run NSA Variety Store which opened in November 2022. Most of the products sold are from her home county of Sri Lanka.
In an interview with CBC, Nimales says she brings in products like incense, henna temporary tattoos and special hair dye because noticed such international products are often hard to find in Cape Breton.
“I always thought about the students, they need some back home fruits, vegetables and everything,” Nimales said. “It’s most helpful for them.
“I thought, when we open a store, we could help them to get everything here,” Nimales said.
Nimales adds that local Cape Bretoners are shopping in her store, too, trying out the spices she sells in their kitchens.
“They like to cook new items and they want to try new spices and make new South Indian and Sri Lankan food,” she said.
Nimales with her husband and children worked together to build the store from the bottom up. She said it was difficult to find a suitable place to rent but it is now flourishing. It has even helped her put three of her children through university.
Nimales’ advice to people in the international community who are curious about opening a business is to understand the market and keep prices fair.
“Think about the students because they don’t have money on their hands or they have to spend it on their rent and their study. So we have to think about that and sell the product at a reasonable price,” she said.