Where do you go when you have a hankering for squishy Skittles from China? Or the famously wild chip flavours of Thailand? Or a New York Seltzer, a drink you haven’t tasted since a childhood trip to a fancy restaurant in the 1980s?
There’s now a spot on Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver for all those impossible-to-find treats, thanks to a pair of North Shore boys and their best bud from across Burrard Inlet.
Sentinel Secondary grad Sam Sabor and West Vancouver Secondary grad Martin Sahami are two of the original bodega boys who, along with their Vancouver friend TJ Voss, are the founders of Lucky’s Exotic Bodega. The trio started their bodega business with a pair of stores in Vancouver, and opened up their first North Shore location last month in Central Lonsdale.
“I was really trying to get back to the North Shore,” said Sabor. “Once we had the opportunity we thought ‘why not?’ Let’s take advantage of the home court advantage.”
The initial plan for the three friends was to open up some generic corner stores that were loosely based on the bodega model popular in New York City, basically a place within walking distance of high-density residential areas where you can pick up all of life’s essentials without taking a trip to the supermarket. But as the bodega boys thought more about their business model, they decided they wanted to do something a little different.
“We noticed so many convenience stores are run the same way, they have all the same stuff that Walmart has, but for a higher price because of the convenience,” said Voss. “We never understood that. We thought, why not bring stuff in that people can’t find [elsewhere]?”
That’s why you won’t find a pack of Old Dutch ripple chips at Lucky’s, but you can pick up some Strawberry Yogurt Sunchips that have been air-shipped straight from Thailand to maintain freshness.
There’s an aisle full of Haribo candies from Germany, a wall of limited edition cereal from the United States, and a cooler packed with drinks you’ve never dreamed of – Flaming Hot Mountain Dew?! If you’ve been on the hunt for Magic Fruity Pebbles cereal with cover art featuring Fred Flintstone wearing Nike sneakers, they’ve got you covered at Lucky’s.
“We always want to have the stuff that you can’t find locally, the stuff that's out of reach, but at a very fair price,” said Voss, adding that people from other countries come in every day and marvel at the treats from their homeland that they’ve never seen elsewhere in Canada.
“Especially during the pandemic, when you can't travel, you can't be back home – the little things that make you feel comfortable, remind you of the good times are usually sweets, candy, snacks, drinks. [They] bring you back to your childhood, bring you back to a happier time. And we wanted to bring the world to your doorstep.”
The North Vancouver location has some other unique touches, including a section devoted to collector clothing and sneakers. The whole shop also has a basketball theme, with logos on the floor and door and a scoreboard hanging on the wall. Music is pumping as you peruse the exotic snacks, reinforcing the store’s appeal to a younger demographic – Lucky’s is strategically located in the middle of a trio of high schools, and noon-hour business is booming, said Voss with a laugh.
The bodega boys aim to be more than just a purveyors of sweet treats though. This month they introduced Safe @ Luckys, a program to provide help for anyone who comes in to the store and needs assistance. If you ask "Do you guys have Starfruit back in stock?" staff from the store will know to respond with quick but subtle help. That may be an important service from a store that is open from 9 a.m. until midnight every day.
“We just want the community to know that we are here for the community and anything we can do ever to make anyone's day a little bit better than when they came in … we're always happy to oblige,” said Voss. “The North Shore is such a wonderful community, it’s a privilege to be here on Lonsdale. We take it as a big badge of honour – we look at this as the big leagues. Lonsdale is the place to be in North Van, so for us to be here is only truly because of the blessings of the community and the support that we have from everyone that comes in.”
Lucky's Exotic Bodega is located at 1830 Lonsdale Ave. in North Vancouver.