• Kristina de Guzman

Blast from the Past: Paraiso South’s expansion story

Born from client demand & a need for space

Paraiso South on Calgary Trail in March 2020.
Photo: Gela Cabrera Loa

Exactly thirty years ago in the month of April, Paraiso Tropical Latin Market was born – first beginning in Chinatown just a block or so away from Sacred Heart School before eventually moving to Alberta Avenue.

However, there’s another birth story that is less known: that of Paraiso South on Calgary Trail, which had a soft launch in November 2014 but had an official opening a few months later in February 2015.

So what influenced this family business to expand?

Paraiso South under construction
Photo: Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

“It was two-fold,” explains current owner Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr. “We had a lot of people – that were from south Edmonton coming to north Edmonton – asking us to open up a shop in the south. So that was one of the main drivers – [people were telling us that it] was too far to come to the north to do their shopping.

“And at that time, we needed more space as well to exhibit our select variety of products,” he adds, saying that the south location’s space allowed the Paraiso team to open up a warehouse, giving the business an ability to bring in a larger quantity of products as well.

Paraiso Tropical’s co-owner and Gonzalez Rivas Jr.’s wife, Bruna Campos Gonzalez, had arrived in Canada just when the south store had opened. She notes that she’s aware that there had been talks about moving the north store before the idea of expansion came into existence.

“[The Paraiso family] didn’t want to leave the avenue in the north end [Alberta Avenue]. We grew there. We wanted to stay there,” she says. “[So] why not get a warehouse with a storefront and then just make it a second store?”

And so the Paraiso team began shopping around for an additional – rather than a replacement – space from the late half of 2012 up to 2013.

Paraiso South before it was Paraiso South (circa 2012-13).
Photo: Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

Searching for the ideal location & space

“We wanted to have a location that was highly visible, so [with] Calgary Trail, it gets a lot of traffic. And it has a lot of visibility,” Gonzalez Rivas Jr. recalls the reason behind the eventual location of choice. “We didn’t want [the new store] written off in a community per say. We wanted it along a main corridor.”

Fortunately, the opportunity happened to present itself just at the right time.

“That space [on Calgary Trail] was available to us, and it was exactly the same size that we were looking for. It just fit in with all the things that we were looking for,” says Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

When asked about the challenges that came with the process of expanding the business, he can’t help but laugh with a hint of overwhelm, as if not sure where to begin.

“Gosh! We still are a small business, but we were a smaller business [then], right? Jesus [Gonzalez Sr.] and Alba [Gonzalez] – my parents – were more actively involved at that time in the decision-making process [but] not so much now,” begins Gonzalez Rivas Jr, saying that transitioning from a small, purely family-run business to having to look for new team members was a big challenge in itself.

“When you’re talking of challenges, there were so many – like we’re talking about working with a bigger team. We’re talking about, you know, all the bureaucracy of opening up a new business…” he says with an exasperated laugh, “…basically having to now manage two locations instead of one location.”

Paraiso Tropical's southside location takes over former Subsea Experience spot.
Photo: Jesus Gonzalez Rivas Jr.

Piecing the puzzle with the right people

As he continues to reflect, Gonzalez Rivas Jr. admits that the biggest challenge is always having to find the right team members.

“You can’t do it all by yourself, right? So you need to have key people in there that align with your vision and are able to take [that vision] forward. And it was a huge learning curve for me, especially [in] making sure that all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, perfectly.”

One of those key people is Natalia Marcenaro, who has been Paraiso South’s manager for the last three years, making sure that everything is in order. From recruiting new staff to working on employee schedules to updating prices, as well as bookkeeping, creating sales reports, and receiving shipments, her job is nothing short of complex, and it’s definitely not one-note.

“Everything that is, let’s say, in the back office, I manage that,” Marcenaro summarizes, before giving an understatement. “Also, I give customer service, so it’s a little bit of multitasking.”

Paraiso South manager Natalia Marcenaro assists a customer.
Photo: Kristina de Guzman

Born in Los Angeles of Salvadoran parents who were escaping El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s, Marcenaro’s parents, Romulo and Ana Marcenaro decided to give Canada a try, moving the entire family to Saskatoon where they stayed for about twelve years.

“And then the civil war ended and my parents wanted to go back to El Salvador and see family – just to visit,” Marcenaro shares. “But we ended up going back there [permanently], so we stayed there for more than twenty years.

“And then about three years ago, we decided as a family to come, all together, back to Canada and we came to Edmonton.”

A lasting friendship over time & distance

A little known fact is that Paraiso Tropical began with four people: Gonzalez Rivas Jr.’s parents and Marcenaro’s parents as well. The two families are close family friends. In fact, Paraiso’s very first logo was created by Ana Marcenaro.