Paraiso Tropical, Many Voices, One Culture:
The story of Paraiso Tropical began during the 1980s when Jesus & Alba Gonzalez left El Salvador and immigrated to Edmonton, Alberta. Their story in not unique to Albertan history as thousands of Salvadorans fled their homeland amid political and civil unrest. What was unique about these pioneers within the Latin American community was their desire to bring a part of their culture to our city.
Coming from what is seen as a Tropical Paradise, Latin American’s were met with a culture shock, not least of which was caused by a void left by their local cuisines. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, traditional Latin American goods were nonexistent and so, Jesus and Alba, along with two other families open their doors to all Edmontonians in 1991.
Located a few blocks from Edmonton’s historical Chinatown, the original lists of imported goods included beans, corn flour, traditional goods that needed to be either frozen or stored in jars, along with typical music, movies, and magazines unique to Central America.
After six months in business, Jesus and Alba proudly took full ownership of the growing business and focused on nurturing their business. In the world of business, life was often demanding but with their strong work ethic and support of their two older children, the Gonzalez’s business grew. Within two years, Paraiso Tropical relocated to Alberta Avenue on 118th avenue and 87th street. During 1993-1997, demand for Latin American products grew. As a result of the new waves of Latin American immigration, the demand for Salvadoran goods grew, but so did products from all over Central American and Mexico.
As the business increased, so did the Gonzalez’s connections with the Latin American community as the store became a community among the owners and clients. Latin American immigrants had a location where they celebrated their culture, felt safe, and connected with others who shared a similar background. As individual connection developed within the store, a common theme ensued: it was not about being Salvadoran, Mexican, or from any other Latin American country, it was about proudly embracing a common culture among friends and family.
In 1997, the store was relocated to its current location on Alberta Avenue. Demand for product from all over Latin American created a need for more storage capacity and the new location allowed for this. With some renovations, including a full kitchen, Paraiso Tropical moved into ready-made foods and takeout – a popular option among its customers. As immigration from Latin American to Edmonton evolved, so did the demands for variety. Today, many traditional ingredients and foods from all over Latin America can be found within the family owned stored.
In the late 2000s, the youngest of the Gonzalez’s children – Jesus Jr. – took an active role within the family business. As a result of meeting the customers increased demands, innovative strategies and firmly nestled within Latin American traditions, Paraiso Tropical remains a central hub for both Edmontonians and Latin Americans.
The tremendous support from the local community is at the heart of Paraiso Tropical’s success. In their continuous effort to provide increasing variety and access to latin food products to all Edmontonians, the Gonzalez family announced the opening of their south side location in 2015. Jesus Gonzalez Jr, now President of Paraiso Tropical says:
“I'm always working to continue expanding our product line and introduce new products and flavours. It's always a pleasure seeing the smiles of our regular customers as well as new ones and being able to chat and provide suggestions. Our team is a family and our stores are a home where our customers interact, share stories & recipes and in a small way feel like your in a little Latin America."
"I am very proud of what we have been able to accomplish for our business in well over 27 years. We work hard as family in both our stores every day to continue to make it a successful business. I never take for granted the support of our loyal customers that carry our business forward. Growing up with the business, it was challenging having our parents work all day, 7 days a week and yet still expect them to be available outside work. I laugh to think how many times growing up we hated being presented the choice of spending our weekends helping out at home or at Paraiso. But you look back in retrospect and realize how blessed we are to get to the point where we are now. You learn the value of hard work and the strong effort required in overcoming challenges. Taking on the business for 10 years now hasn't happened easily without its' set of challenges. Despite this, I take pride & fulfillment in creating a unique legacy for our family business, Hispanic community and beautiful city."
Jesus Gonzalez Rivas, Jr & Jesus Gonzalez, Sr.