At SY Grace West Indian Supermarket in The Bronx, New York, proprietor Joanna Chung knows many of the customers who pass through daily intimately. Most of them are Jamaican, and have been the family-owned grocery’s largest clientele for almost three decades.
The Chungs are arguably the largest suppliers of Jamaican produce in The Bronx, one of three New York City boroughs with massive West Indian populations. Family patriarch, Sea Young Chung, started the establishment as a fish market 30 years ago but it has evolved to be the go-to spot for hard-to-find Jamaican supplies.
“Jamaicans have a huge impact on our business...I would say at least 85 per cent of our customers are Jamaican. I go to Jamaica twice a year to buy whatever they need,” Chung told Observer Online.
Those needs vary --- from tinned ackee, calaloo, yams and dasheen, to Gold Seal Margarine, Anchor syrup, Betty condensed milk and peppered shrimp.
Chung said most of her Jamaican shoppers live in The Bronx and neighbouring Brooklyn and Queens. There is also a healthy flow of customers from Connecticut, Philadelphia, North Carolina and The Bahamas.
“My dad started as a fish market which is still a big part of our business, but he quickly learned everything from the customers, and what they wanted. So, there’s a lot more variety than when we started,” she disclosed.
Her father is from Daejeon in South Korea. He migrated to the United States in the 1980s and established a fish market in the Boston Road area of The Bronx, which is home to a diverse populace including many Jamaicans.
It did not take him to long to see that his Jamaican customers wanted more than seafood. An adept businessman, he quickly moved to tap into a potentially lucrative market by purchasing products Jamaicans long for from home.
Joanna, the youngest of his three children, learned the ropes from her older brothers. She travels to Jamaica twice a year to buy items and check out leading supermarkets in Kingston.
“We want our supermarket to be similar or as close to the ones in Jamaica,” she said.
The supermarket or grocery store has been the backbone of Korean commerce in the US for close to a century. H Mart, established in 1982, is the largest of these ventures with 89 locations.
In a show of gratitude to their customers, Chung said SY Grace West Indian Supermarket has established relationships with churches in New York City with large Jamaican congregations. In 2022, they began funding one-year tuitions for a student at the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus.