Taso Erimos says the key to success in Montreal’s overheated grocery market is: always listen to your customers.
He should know. He has 20,000 of them a week going through his downtown Supermarché PA, which opened next to a Provigo in 2001, and at his Mile End store on fabled Parc Avenue. That, plus a few more at a store in suburban Laval, opened in 2010.
It was on Parc that he, his brother, Sam, and late father, Nicolas, a bartender, got their start. They bought PA, a 1,200-sq.-ft. hole-in-the-wall Greek grocer, in 1989. Sam had sold fish before, but the others knew nothing about grocery. “I had no philosophy,” says Taso, 53.
“I was just looking for work.” But the store was in the triplex his father owned, so the family decided to give it a go and became grocers. “If you listen to your clients, you can’t go wrong,” he says.
Back then, the area was losing its mostly Greek and Italian population to the suburbs as Canadian-born yup- pies took advantage of inexpensive rents, large duplexes and triplexes and its proximity to downtown. They wanted different types of foods. “They asked for brie cheese, then Camembert,” says Erimos. “We changed with the times.”
The brothers don’t see themselves as “ethnic” grocers. Indeed, Taso thinks the term itself is a misnomer. People travel all over the world and want to eat the products they sampled elsewhere, he says. And he likes to stock those items for them. It might be Mexican salsa, Indian curries in a ready-to-boil pouch, or the exotic fruit Taso buys on his daily treks to the city’s Marché Centrale.
For the Erimos brothers, the ticket to the six expansions of Parc PA (now 30,000 sq. ft.) and their two other stores is also listening to what customers don’t say. “If I sell cheese at $12 a piece, people who earn minimum wage are not going to try it,” he says. “But if I price it at six dollars they might, and then come back and buy it again as a special treat.”