Picayune store specializes in Latino foods

Published 9:03 am Tuesday, September 22, 2015

business horz

When Celenia Lampkin opened the Mini Super Latino Americano store on East Canal with her sister-in-law, she was hoping to move into a new, permanent home for their Latin American grocery store and restaurant.

Their farmer’s market stall had proven popular, but after six months, she said she wanted something with better parking and with more public access.

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But it wasn’t an easy move.

“We were looking for a location where we could open a restaurant, and the building wasn’t equipped with anything,” she said.

But, she said, the rent was good and the location was great, so she and her sister-in-law went for it.

The store, located at 322 E. Canal, is across from Crystal Gallery, and when she found that location, she and her business partner set about painting, securing permits and building a neighborhood grocery from the ground up. Lampkin, who is from Costa Rica, had worked as an office manager at Winn Dixie for two decades before moving to a job at the Stennis Space Center, until she was laid off in January of 2014. At the time, she needed work, and she had a background in grocery management.

“So my sister in law said, ‘We need a little Spanish grocery store in Picayune,” said Lampkin. But, she added, she was hesitant.

“I didn’t want to because I knew what it was like to work at a grocery store. It’s hard to compete, and it’s a lot of work,” she said.

She pointed out that while Picayune doesn’t have a Spanish store per se, Walmart carries quite a bit of traditional Mexican and Spanish ingredients and

their bulk purchasing power means that independent stores can’t compete on price. Lampkin said she had to stop carrying quite a bit of canned foods after a few months simply because of her competition with major retailers. Of course, it helps that Lampkin can speak Spanish with her clients, but she knew she needed to offer things that immigrants or migrants need and that they can’t get cheaper elsewhere.

She hit on phone cards. International phone plans can be costly, and prepaid phone cards are a popular necessity among immigrant communities.

“Its very popular here,” Lampkin said. “The company is Maxi. I started with Western Union, but it was too much hassle.”

Lampkin also sells home-made corn tortillas, traditional Mexican cheeses and spices familiar to Latin American chefs.

And she’s found a few food items that larger stores don’t don’t stock. Specifically, she is working with a man who bakes traditional Mexican breads and delivers them to stores across the region.

“Slidell, Gulfport and New Orleans. He has all the Spanish stores pretty much,” Lampkin said.

She said he had been supplying her store with bread, too, until his lease in Slidell ran out.

“And at the same time we were debating about the kitchen to take out the stove and put in ovens,” she said.

Lampkin and her sister in law went ahead and took out the stove, so they no longer serve food, although the only review they have on Yelp.com is glowing, praising the food and the price.

Still, Lampkin said running a kitchen is hard work.

“My sister-in-law was doing it, because I don’t like to cook. Also I was working two part time jobs,” she said.

The little store still isn’t turning a profit and she said she’s still working part time at other jobs, though she’s hoping to someday soon get the store in the black.

“We’re hoping to turn that around,” she said. “We haven’t done that much advertising, it’s been hard …. I hope I don’t have to work so much and can have my business take care of me.”

One thing she’s considering is a something new for the corner of the store.

“I am thinking about opening a little cafe since I already have the food permit, so maybe when it gets colder we’ll sell coffee and hot chocolate and maybe a few sandwiches,” she said.

Lampkin said her customers come from all over, drawn in by the popularity of Mexican food.

“We have a few Americans who come in here,” she said. “Most people who come from Texas or Miami or California know the products, they look for the cheese and the spices,” she said.

Inside her store she’s decorated the walls with flags from countries all over the world. The theme, she said, is inclusion.

“We have so many people from Picayune who are from different countries, and so I thought having all the flags, they’d feel welcome,” she said. “It’s a little bit of every country here.”