This sponsored post was edited for length and clarity.
Located in Richfield, Galaxy Foods is your go-to for all things Caribbean. As a lifestyle store more than anything else, Galaxy is offering plenty of authentic Caribbean foods so you can make your favorite dishes at home. We sat down to learn more, with Arun Motilall, whose family has owned the business for almost 30 years.
EAT.DRINK.DISH MPLS: To begin at the beginning… how did you get started?
ARUN MOTILALL: Well it’s definitely not about me, it’s definitely about the family. So my family has been in business for 28 years, so we all started when we first came to the states, you know, a couple of years after being in the states. People in our community were looking to buy product that was familiar to them. And my family grew up in the supermarket, bar, restaurant kind of business even when they were back in our home country, in Guyana. So always running those types of establishments, they came here and they we're like ok so we’ve got some contacts, some ideas, and they just started some stuff. You know, like everybody else does, kind of humbly and small, in their garage or basement. As you grow, you grow into it.
My parents have been pretty liberal about finding your own path and finding what you want to do, so my siblings are accountants and you know, work in retail for companies like Best Buy. We’ve all kind of done that and I’ve flowed back into the business after 13 or 14 years of corporate work.
EDD: I’m curious to hear about how your family started this, by, as you say, recognizing that there was a need.
AM: I think an important part of business is understanding yourself a lot. So I think we all kind of look internally and see how it impacts us externally. The unique thing about our culture is that we fall into this umbrella of West Indian, Indo-Caribbean, and I think as we’ve all made this personal journey about ourselves, it’s helped us understand our business model as well. So we don’t fall into the type of people that go into an Indian food store. We’re partners with those stores, but they don’t carry the breadth of what we’re accustomed to in our native lands. And then you go into a traditional Asian store you’re not going to find-- again, you’re going to find some things-- but you’re not going to find the uniqueness that is the Caribbean, which is a melting pot of black, West African, Indians, and Chinese, almost specifically. It’s that melting of culture that’s so unique. So our foods are different, the way we prepare things are going to be different. With that, we had to lean into the uniqueness of our business.
I think that’s where we realized our business opportunity and need. There’s a specific business need for this. And that’s what has helped us diversify. Because we’re more of a lifestyle store, there’s clothes, food, religious spiritual stuff, there’s fish and meat that’s very specific to our areas. So that’s really helped us see the path forward.
EDD: What else is unique about this store, in terms of services or products offered?
AM: We do a lot of shipping internationally because again, nobody else is shipping to the Caribbean. If you want to send charitable products to a church, to a school, to whatever, we’ll facilitate all that. You can’t just go to Fedex or the post office, it’s not economical.
Customers will say things like, "I’m so glad you guys are here, don’t ever go anywhere because I can’t find this stuff anywhere else!" And it reinforces the fact that you are like, oh I do serve a purpose, we are unique. And that’s appreciated.
EDD: You mentioned having partners in other companies-- what’s the demographic of your customers? Are they just people off the street, or mostly other companies, or a mix?
AM: Yeah, so we do a couple of things. Our biggest business and the anchor to our family is our retail business, so that’s anybody coming in off the street. I think our customer base falls pretty much into three categories-- those who move from their home and they are very attached to the lifestyle that they had, then the people who were either born elsewhere but came at a young age, or were born here but grew up in a household that predominantly followed those ways, and then the third category is people who are traveled. The Caribbean benefits from travel so we get a lot of people who are willing to try new things, and they love food and have been to the Caribbean in some form and they’re like "I want to recreate the dish I had."
We do run a wholesale operation as well, which has been with mostly other ethnic stores, or other stores that are interested in being more ethnically diverse. These places are catering to the Caribbean population, we work a lot in the Brooklyn Park area, St. Paul area, and then a bit in the South, like Eagan, Savage, Burnsville. Not everyone wants to drive to Richfield, so they’ll be able to go to [these other stores] for their flagship items, and get the key 80% of what they need.
EDD: So why Richfield?
AM: I think it was just good location, good property, good value. It was close to Minneapolis, which is where we grew up, and then my parents moved to Shakopee, so I guess this was in the middle of the two. We flirted with being further north, because there are so many populations in the north, but it’s hard because we’re really focused on running our one business, our one location and then running that location the best we can.
EDD: How often does your inventory change? Do you always carry certain things?
AM: We’re very consistent in what we carry, which I think people appreciate. It’s challenging when things are always moving, but I would say that 90% of the products in our store you will see every single time you come into the store. I would say that in the last 12 months, which coincides with the amount of time that I’ve been 100% invested in the business, we’ve done a lot more testing of products and brought in a lot of new stuff. I would say we generally keep those things. We know what’s going to work.
EDD: You have lots of specialty items, but is there something in particular people really come for?
AM: Jerk chicken! Like any kind of jerk seasoning. We’re pretty good at it. We know the breadth of products, we cook with it. We really balance growth-- like growing isn’t our mission. Serving people is our mission, so if you grow as a result of that, then great. But we cook with and have used almost every single product in the store.
EDD: What is the set up of roles in the store, in terms of you and your family-- everyone that runs the store.
AM: My mom, she’s the boss. We joke around about that-- we’re pretty much employees of hers. So she runs it, she does it all. She does all of our inventory, she does all of our ordering, as well as maintenance of our store. My dad is a lot more focused on the quality of product, specifically meat and fish. He works with specifically how we get the best, the most fresh [of a product.] He’s there building relationships with suppliers. I spend most of my time doing marketing, helping with operations, helping with management of inventory, but I spend the other half of my time with the wholesale operation. My sister is here part time, she does our accounting. And there's my brother, who lends his skills when necessary, but he’s not here operationally.
EDD: You mentioned earlier about changing people’s perceptions when it comes to Caribbean culture. Are there certain ways you’ve found to be especially effective in changing people’s perceptions?
AM: Yeah, I think part of it is that nothing beats conversation-- like real conversation. The kind of conversation when you are genuinely interested in what the person has to say, which is hard over social media. We’re very methodical about how we communicate with our customers, we don’t send a lot of stuff out, we don’t bombard people with product placement. It’s very much organic.
EDD: In terms of the future, do you have any plans for expansion or new store or projects?
AM: I think our expansion, looking at a 3 to 5 year plan, wouldn’t be more stores. It would be just focusing on our store here, and doing business better here, which means things like how can we be more environmentally friendly-- we are looking at solar panelling our roof. I think where we have opportunity is to be more holistic in our supplying from a wholesaler perspective. To be deeper with our customers, as in more products, and to touch more customers, especially in the restaurant space. It’s more important to us to serve our customers correctly, to be very proud of our work, than it is to take home a check that is empty numbers.