• Kristina de Guzman

Working in a grocery store during coronavirus

Stories from behind the counter


Photo: Rubén Contreras

It’s been a while since we’ve shared some stories from the team at Paraiso Tropical on our blog! We’ve been spending some time learning more about each staff member’s experiences these past few months, including how they have managed during the continuously changing COVID-19 pandemic situation. Although we’ve shared some of what they had to say on social media, there’s much more that we haven’t yet had a chance to share!

We spoke with Luis from Paraiso South a few weeks after the store enforced COVID-19 safety measures and with Bruna, who works at both stores, just before the beginning of summer.

Photo: Kristina de Guzman

LUIS CARLOS CIFUENTES MARTINEZ, southside staff

How long have you been working here at Paraíso?

Probably [11 months as of August], I’ll say.

Are you here from Canada or another country?

I came here to Edmonton from Nanaimo, British Colombia. But I’m originally from Bogotá, Colombia.

How many years have you been here in Canada?

About 8 years.

When did you move to Edmonton?

September last year.

Why did you move from Nanaimo to Edmonton?

‘Cause I’m studying at the University of Alberta. That’s where the funding is.

Can you share any memory you have of the first time you came to Paraiso – what was your experience like?

Well, I’ll say that it’s the most complete and the most stocked Latino store that I have seen. I’ve been in Victoria, Vancouver, and Calgary, and the stores that are focused on Latin American cuisine – it’s very, very limited [in] products. I don’t know how Jesus [Rivas Gonzalez Jr., owner] manages to [bring] all these products from all over Latin America. He’s not only focusing on small sectors of Latin America – [rather], it’s very broad.


Photo: Gela Cabrera Loa

What’s your role here in the store?

I’m technically the cook, but I’m also dipping into the kitchen management aspect, and the sanitation, which is my kind of background.

What kinds of foods do you cook here?

Pretty much everything. I do the pupusas, the yuca con chicharrón…I cook the empanadas.

Did you learn how to make those here or did you know how to cook those foods before?

Well, [I didn’t know how] to make [them], but I’m familiar with – I don’t like to say Latin American cuisine, but Colombian cuisine. Like the pupusas are pretty much just fancy arepas.

What’s your favourite kitchen item?

I like beef empanadas. There’s chicken, cheese, and beef [here.] I wish that we had more of a way [to sell take-out food] kind of the way you see it in Colombia – it’s on the street almost [rather than] going into the kitchen or restaurant.

Photo: Kristina de Guzman

What do you like best about working at Paraiso?

I may be romanticizing a bit but the representation of the Latin American culture.

Especially in the last two weeks, what would you say has the experience been like, especially with the coronavirus situation?

That’s actually very interesting, ‘cause my background is Biology. I’m doing a Masters in Neurobiology [right now], but [before that], I did Biology with a specialization in Microbiology.

So that’s where all the protocols for sanitation [come in]. I used to work in a lab, so I’m very strict about sanitation protocols and sterilizing surfaces and all that stuff. It’s a big responsibility of keeping in check, not only the food, but the staff, [too].

What sorts of changes have you seen in the last two weeks? Even your observations around foot traffic versus now people asking for deliveries.

Well, that’s the thing. Latino people – like at home – it seems a little bit more ‘Oh, what’s going on?’ Much more panicking. But I come here and like I see all the customers and they’re not fazed. It’s like ‘Oh!’ It’s a nice contrast there.

So you’re not seeing the same panic that you’re seeing at home?

Not as much. For example, I watch the news, and there are empty streets, empty grocery stores, like people with masks on and stuff like that. But here, you’ll see the families coming […] so we are actually getting more strict and restricting access for large groups.

With your family or people that you live with, are there concerns from their ends about you coming to work in a grocery store right now?

Ahh, not really. Well, this is almost like a chance thing, right? So, I’m exposing myself, right? But everybody’s exposed. It’s a gamble right now. I’m young, so I’m not in that high-risk [group]. But also, I’ve been working in labs where you get exposed to E. coli and deal with viruses and microbes, so I know personal protective equipment and maintain myself safely.