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El Sentinel

Grocers Cater To Hispanic Tastes

By Nancy Imperiale

June 29, 2002
Copyright © 2002 El Sentinel. All rights reserved.




Every few weeks at Jesús Produce, a mountain rises and falls.

It's a mountain of rice - giant bags of long, extra-long, medium and short-grain varieties stacked halfway to the ceiling.

Within a few weeks these thousands of pounds of rice will be purchased. Then delivery trucks will arrive, and another mountain will rise.

"The Hispanic people eat a lot of rice," says proprietor Zaida Matos, 46. "A family of four will use this" - she pats a 20-pound bag - "every two to three weeks."

Matos and her husband Jesús run Jesús Produce, a community mainstay at 2635 Curry Ford Road in Orlando.

The Matos family has built their 4,000-square-foot bodega on understanding the grocery habits of Hispanic customers. They also understand that not all Hispanic customers prefer the same foods.

Take the refrigerator case. It doesn't just stock cheese - it has rectangular slabs of yellow and white cheese labeled "Puerto Rican style" and "Dominican style." There are cuts of meat preferred by Mexican customers, and Dominican salchichón (a salami-type sausage)

Central Florida transplants from across Latin America frequent the store to purchase foods they can't buy elsewhere. Many customers drive from as far away as Ocala or Lakeland, Matos says.

The store also sells directly to local restaurants.

Then there are the adventurers - people who come in to find unfamiliar foods you won't see in a chain grocery store.

"The American people come in and ask me 'How do you cook this?' " Matos says, standing over displays of malanga coco (a rootlike tuber resembling sweet potato) and ñame amarilla (yellow yam). "I explain that Spanish food is very easy. Often you just have to peel it and then boil it."

Jesús Matos used to run a similar store in Kissimmee. He has been in the grocery business for more than two decades. Family members help out at the store, which is open seven days a week.

Earlier this year Matos opened another Jesús Produce at 2531 French Ave. in Sanford.

The business is built on personal service -- Matos said the store will deliver groceries to elderly customers who aren't mobile. The store also will order items at a customer's request.

Despite the exclusive nature of its products, the family works to keep prices down.

"Our slogan," Matos says, "is Más Barato Nadie -- Nobody's Cheaper Than Us."

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