Canada’s immigration policies not only contribute to the financial growth of the economy but also open doors to world cuisine and food varieties for its residents. Like the city’s population, Vancouver’s food scene is diverse too.
But it wasn't as diverse when Viviane Reis’s family moved to Vancouver in 2011, several years after her family immigrated to Toronto from Brazil when she was 10 years old.
While Toronto had multiple Brazilian grocery stores and restaurants, Vancouver couldn’t offer the same.
“Toronto had everything. Lots of Brazilian stores and products. I didn’t really miss the food from back home. When we moved to Vancouver 10 years ago, there was nothing here,” said the 43-year-old former aircraft mechanic.
Born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Reis learned a lot about her culture in her early childhood, especially the food. For someone who loves Brazilian food, living without their daily dose of happiness was not an option.
When Reis found out she wasn’t the only one who missed Brazilian food, she took it into her own hands to explore solutions.
Though Reis had been thinking about starting her business for a long, she was skeptical about finding success.
When she was laid off in 2015, she realized she couldn’t stay at home. From there, Reis started working on her dream project and finally launched Oba Oba Brasil, Vancouver’s first exclusively Brazilian market, in 2017.
The phrase "oba-oba" in Portuguese is an expression of joy and happiness.
“My husband and I spent seven years on researching and saving,” Reis added. Soon after graduation, Reis’s daughter joined the business and became the co-owner, working full-time on expansion and social media presence.
For many homesick Brazilian newcomers, finding familiar food options could be a blessing, and OBA OBA was nothing less than that. What started as an initiative to quench one’s thirst ended up spreading joy to many. Oba Oba has many items that are either hard to find in Vancouver or very expensive if exported in small quantities for personal use.
“The cuisine in Brazil is very diverse. We bring a little bit from each corner of Brazil. We have everything from dry beans and rice to cookies and chocolates. We also sell palm oil that is used to cook certain dishes. Brazilian coffee is very different from Canadian coffee, and we recently started selling that too,” shared Reis.
The family business was initially started as a physical store but later added an online shopping model. The decision proved to be fruitful as a month later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and demand for online shopping grew.
The hardest part of starting a business for Reis was to convince herself if investing all her savings would be worth it or not. “Will people come on board with my dream? Will I get customers?” were some of the questions she asked herself.
Once the store was open, she started collecting data on what products Brazilians miss the most. Soon she opened the survey to other communities to understand what Brazilian products Vancouverites were looking for.
The family business is still open to ideas and often collects feedback through social media and in-store surveys.
Entrepreneurship has indeed changed Reis’s life for good, but it came with extra responsibilities for this full-time mother. “My day starts off as a mom. I send little ones to school before getting ready to head for the store. Even when I am managing daily operations of the business, I sometimes think of my family.”
Reis and her daughter want to keep innovating with their offerings and store experience ideas. Keeping customers happy is their number one priority, said Reis.