The aisles of Paraiso Tropical, located on 118 Ave. are filled with colourful vegetables and vibrant packaging. The store is almost as striking as it’s story about how it got there.
A view from one of the shelves inside Paraiso Tropical.
Edmonton’s 118 Ave. also known as Alberta Avenue, is affectionately known as the Avenue of Champions. When Paraiso Tropical first opened on the Avenue, it had little more than beans, rice and some frozen food. Now it serves an abundance of authentic Latin American goods.
“My idea for this business is to have people understand what true Latin American food and culture is,” Jesus Gonzalez Jr., the manager of Paraiso Tropical, says expressing his passion for his family’s store.
Jesus Gonzalez Jr. stands proudly in his family’s store, that he now runs.
The Gonzalez family left El Salvador during a time of political and civil unrest and immigrated to Edmonton in 1986, in search of a better life. The family saw a growing need for Latin American goods as the Latin American community grew in the city, especially in the area of Alberta Avenue.
“At first, there was nothing here,” says Gonzalez Jr. when talking about the lack of authentic Latin American goods in Edmonton. “There were a lot of El Salvadorans coming to Edmonton so my family saw that there was a need for it, they wanted to help.”
An outside view of Paraiso Tropical. The store is on 118 Ave and sits between 91 and 92 St.
From what started as a means of providing for the Latin American community, the store now aims to serve a larger and broader community of people who may not know the culture at all.
“I don’t want to only focus on how we can provide for just our community, but the whole Edmonton population in general. There are a lot of people that want to try these great foods, but they don’t even know where to start,” says Gonzalez Jr.
The store also has a kitchen and serves fresh, hot food daily for take-out.
The Gonzalez’s story is not unique to Edmonton and is a familiar narrative on Alberta Avenue. The Avenue is concentrated with “mom and pop” shops that have found refuge, a home and livelihood here in Edmonton. Eleven of these businesses, Paraiso Tropical included, were selected to be featured in a project called “Champions of Alberta Avenue“. The project was created by Arts on the Ave and focuses on the Avenue and the stories it holds.
Arts on the Ave is a non-profit organization engaged in developing Alberta Avenue. The organization produced the project to highlight this historic and unique area of Edmonton. The project includes: written stories, photojournalism and a documentary. Everyone featured in the project is an immigrant and all have stories of overcoming hardship to make a life here in Edmonton. The businesses featured, range from restaurants to automotive service shops. The owners come from El Salvador, Ghana, Vietnam and beyond.
The Carrot Community Arts Coffeehouse, is the hub and headquarters for Arts on the Ave. The Carrot is also located on 118 Ave.
“It’s all about bringing honour and recognition to a community, often we don’t do that enough,” says Christy Morin, Arts on the Ave Executive Director. “It’s a wonderful thing, especially when so many of them came from unrest and found their shalom on Alberta Ave.”
Arts on the Ave hopes this project will draw a greater awareness towards the community and encourage Edmontonians to support the local businesses.
“It’s about keeping it local and authentic,” says Morin. “These people are so warm and friendly and it’s so different than going to a typical chain store.”
Christy Morin sips on her morning coffee at The Carrot.
Gonzalez Jr. says that it’s not about changing Alberta Avenue or making things seem different. It’s about accepting it for what it is, that makes it special.
“Sometimes that rugged feel, that something different, is what people tend to want,” says Gonzalez Jr.
The project is in the final stages of being complete and, once ready, can be seen on the Arts on the Ave website.