There’s a new hotspot in town for Columbians with a taste for eclectic foods and international flavor.
Nestled behind Gerbes supermarket on Nifong Boulevard is a new specialty foods store, World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods.
World Harvest carries more than 7,000 items from every region of the world, including South America, Japan, Europe, Turkey, the Middle East and India.
“We try to carry foods you don’t find in a regular store,” said store owner Shakir Hamoodi. “More than 98 percent of the items are foreign.”
Columbia’s store is the second World Harvest to open. The first store opened in Champaign, Ill., four years ago and is owned by two of Hamoodi’s friends, Mohamad Al-Haeti and Hazim Jaber.
Globetrotting for flavor
“(My partners) thought to replicate their experience here in Columbia because Champaign is similar to Columbia in the people and the diversity distribution,” Hamoodi said.
Hamoodi uses his partners’ experiences to decide which products to sell. “From the way people reacted to the store in Champaign, there was no big surprise to the positive attitude to the shop,” Hamoodi said. “(My partners) had tried over 1,000 types of cheese at their store to find the best sellers.”
In the month since the store has opened, Hamoodi has already developed a regular customer base.
“We have customers that come every day, at least once, some come twice,” he said.
Hamoodi has been at the store every hour it’s been open.
“I like to stand at the cash register or door and get to know the customer’s face,” Hamoodi said.
Hamoodi is originally from Iraq and spent more than three and a half living across Europe, including Scotland and France. He moved to Columbia nearly 19 years ago.
Chain stores expand international foods
The chain grocery stores in Columbia are beginning to notice the shift in demand for ethnic foods as well.
At Schnucks, there has been a gradual increase in the interest in exotic foods and the ingredients that are used to produce ethnic dishes, said Laurie Willis, spokeswoman for Schnucks Grocery Stores.
“It’s been a gradual shift,” Willis said. “As the population of the community shifts, then we tend to see an increase in the number of requests we get in specific products.”
Willis also said that because many people travel and become exposed to different types of dishes, they bring these ideas back to their local stores.
The Hy-Vee Food Store on Broadway has also recently expanded a lot of its lines, adding more specialty foods, said store director Tom Klucking. “We recently added an authentic Chinese section in the last six months,” Klucking said. “We’ve also been adding new organic and health food lines as fast as they come out.”
Klucking said that when the store notices an increase in sales, it leads to an increase in varieties and the expanding food sections.
Hamoodi said he’s still adding items to the stock, including a shipment of African foods.
“If there’s a product (a customer) has seen in Europe, if I get an accurate description, I will look for that product,” he said.