Family brings taste of Asia to Columbia

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Pinak Shah is not afraid to go to new territories.

Five years ago, he left his native Bombay, India, for a management job with a technology company in New York. And five weeks ago, he entered a new field: importing Indian foodstuffs and selling them retail.

Desi Bazaar, a new Indian grocery on Red Branch Road in Columbia, is a retail store and warehouse that Shah hopes will become a pipeline for dozens of Indian stores and restaurants throughout the state.

"We opened the outlet for local people ... to give them good quality, better prices," Shah said.

The grocery store that opened last month drew about 350 people in its first four weeks. Shoppers perused rices, spices, dried goods, frozen foods, fresh vegetables and Indian movie rentals.

Shah said the key to the company's success will be the wholesale distribution business that he and his family are trying to build. While he and his wife, Dharmishta Shah, run the retail store, his brother-in-law, Manoj Shah, and his father, Kanubhai Shah, are working to establish the import arm.

It is not a far calling. With Desi Bazaar, Pinak Shah is the fourth generation in his family to own an import-export company. But instead of competing with major importers in the East Asian population centers in New York and New Jersey, Shah said he is focusing on the growing population of Asians, Indians and Pakistanis in Howard County and southward.

He said the growth of the region is sufficient to support his endeavor.

According to the U.S. Census, nearly 19,000 Asians live in Howard County, an increase of almost 136 percent from the previous decade.

Most of the Indian food stores in Maryland are in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Montgomery counties, according to online business directories. While many East Asian families might be willing to travel to find the spices, produce and ingredients needed for authentic cuisine, Shah said he is hoping families in Howard will find his store more convenient.

Desi Bazaar carries a variety of cooking needs from bags of cashews, flour, cloves and golden raisins to chili powder, mango chutney, lentils and poppy seeds. Several Asian brands and varieties of snacks, soup and sauce mixes, baked goods and teas line the shelves.

The wholesale business is expected to receive its first delivery within a week. Shah said he hopes it will serve local restaurant and grocery store owners like himself.

"Local is easy. If you want something right away, you can go get it," said Aman Saluja, manager of Bombay Bazaar in Baltimore.

Saluja said wholesalers in the area have limited inventory and capacity, and there is room for more.

"It would be a better thing" to have a local distributor, he said. "If the rates are cheaper, then everybody is going to go to them."

The Desi Bazaar retail store already has loyal customers.

Shilpa Desai of Columbia said she visits several times a week because the prices are low and the food is fresh.

"We really needed one more [ethnic grocery] store," said Nita Pancholi of Ellicott City, who said she shops there three times a week and enjoys the movie rental selection. "I come more often because of the new releases."

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