Lowell Couple Places Faith, Labor Behind Infante Grocery Stores
LOWELL — Garibaldy “Gary” Cruz can be found in the far left corner of Infante Grocery on Wednesday morning.
Behind the tall Icee machine, past the shelf stocked with saltine crackers and creme sandwich cookies. Beyond the vegetable stand topped with pineapples and wooden pilones — Spanish for mortars & pestles.
A long day looms ahead. Gary has to put out new merchandise all while tending to the constant trickle of customers. Before him is a cardboard box of green plantains that need to be packaged in produce bags. At three for a dollar, they don’t turn much of a profit but he knows the starchy platanos draw people in.
“I never thought of having a bodega. My heart was always in starting a business, but I didn’t think about what kind,” Gary says in Spanish. “We have a lot of faith and we believe God would help us, and the opportunity presented itself.”
Not once, but twice.
Gary, 33, and his wife, Dayris, 26, both of Lowell, are the new owners of Infante Grocery, 198 Broadway St., and Infante Groceries #2, 326 Moody St.
Gary wanted something greater than his factory job in Billerica. He wanted to build his family’s future. Be his own boss. Eight months ago, he and Dayris took over Infante Grocery on Broadway. The purchase of the Moody Street bodega followed.
The couple, devout Christians, have placed their culture, faith and labor behind their business.
“Faith is what has me here,” Dayris says in Spanish with a chuckle. “Faith is what threw me into this.”
To Gary, faith is the motor behind daily life. Behind their business.
Monday through Saturday, you’ll usually find Gary in one store, and Dayris in the other. Sundays are for rest. They are patrons of Casa Cristiana de Restauración y Adoración (Christian House of Restoration and Worship) in Lowell.
Before their collective leap of faith into the business, Dayris was a medical assistant at Lowell General Hospital. She migrated to Lowell over a decade ago from the Dominican Republic, learned English, and studied all while she and Gary raised their two girls.
Dayris dreamed of moving up in the medical profession. But she gave that up (for now), to help her husband achieve his dream.
“I understood later that we’re supposed to be one and work as a team,” Dayris says. “I couldn’t leave him alone in this because he’s supported everything I’ve ever wanted to do. It was time for me to support him.”
On Wednesday morning, customers filter in and out of Infante Grocery. The corner store is affectionately known as “la tienda amarilla” — the yellow store, for its bright awning.
Gary is soon by the register, behind Plexiglas cubbyholes packed with gum and candies. A man with a backpack, in a rush, buys tortillas and a huge chunk of Honduran cheese. A woman named Patricia comes in looking for her promised panela — unrefined whole cane sugar. Gary, with a smile, assures her it will arrive later in the day.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m., Angel Guerrero, 68, walks in. The Lowell resident greets Gary and walks to the corner of the store, where there’s a little money-transfer station. He’s here to send money to his daughter, Bierca, in the Dominican Republic.
Guerrero says he comes to Infante Grocery twice a month for this errand.
“I feel safe here,” he says. “The owner is responsible. A Christian man. He doesn’t sell beer, nothing.”
After the transaction, Gary gives Guerrero his receipt.
“Gracias mijo,” Guerrero says. Thank you, son.
At both stores, it’s natural for Gary and Dayris to sell products most familiar to them, to other Dominicans: the plantains, salami, white cheese for frying. But they knew they had much to learn about products consumed by people from other Latin American countries.
“It’s exciting because there are things that I never would have known about, that I’m learning about now from Ecuadorians, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Colombians, Guatemalans,” Gary says. “We’ve even had people from Costa Rica, Chile. Even Everett (Massachusetts).”
At first, Dayris and Gary asked customers for the names of products they needed or wanted to see at both stores. They jotted down notes on slips of paper and brought them to their suppliers. In time, both stores became kaleidoscopes of colors, textures and smells as new products were added. There’s lulo, a tangy fruit popular with Colombians, and frozen cuy, which is guinea pig — a traditional dish in countries like Ecuador and Peru.
“That was the most surprising,” Dayris said of the latter.
She raises her brows.
“I offered to cook cuy for Gary, but he said ‘No,’” jokes Dayris, erupting in laughter.
Above one of the freezers at Infante Grocery on Broadway is a sign that reads: “Tenemos Cuy” (“We have guinea pig”). Brought from New Jersey, cuy is so popular that it recently sold out. Dayris and Gary are awaiting the next shipment.
With new products come fresh posts on the store’s Facebook page, which the couple says has helped boost business. Both Dayris and Gary say working together has brought them closer.
Life experiences and working in the store have taught Dayris a lot.
“I want the youth, and especially Latinos (those who are immigrants), to know that you can push forward in life,” she says. “Even though we’re not native to this country, you can achieve not only the American Dream... but whatever you want in life. We can also reach high, but first you have to understand that you can. That you have the potential.”
The wind chime against the store entrance sounds. Another customer. Magda Rodriguez, 37, of Lowell, is here to buy a few items and to send money to her sister in Guatemala.
“Here I find Hispanic products, like the ones we have in our native countries,” she says. “Maseca (corn flour), bread, tortillas, cheese, papaya.”
Rodriguez grabs a handful of sweet plantains and chipilín, a perennial legume that is native to Mexico and Central America. Chipilín is another product Gary admits he knew nothing about prior to opening his business. With a smile, Gary rings up her items.
“I feel good here. They treat you well,” Rodriguez says. “You don’t have to go anywhere else.”
Amaris Castillo: @AmarisCastillo on Twitter