A lot can happen in four years – just ask Guarav Khatri and Neetu Neetu, a married couple from India who are now thriving with their eight-year-old son Hargun in Sault Ste. Marie.
Since July 2022, the two have been proud owners of the Indian Mart on Great Northern Road, which is currently the only Indian grocery store in town.
Khatri recognized a demand in the city when he took over the grocery store from the previous owners when it still went by Indian Bazaar at that time.
“I realized we needed more selection for our customers,” he says. “India has a diverse population; everyone has different preferences.”
The store has expanded its selection over the months and features a wide assortment of foods, snacks, sweets, spices, drinks, and even hair products from all corners of India.
“We have a lot of items that our customers can’t get anywhere else in the Sault,” Neetu says.
As the Indian population continues to grow, Neetu explains it’s important for people from their culture who live in the Sault to know they can still enjoy the familiar tastes and smells of their upbringings.
“They feel so at home here,” she says. “It’s a small city, so there aren’t as many options for them.”
“We have Filipino foods and products as well; we’re trying to cover most of the smaller communities in town.”
The Indian Mart owners order some of their products all the way from India, while Khatri also makes regular trips to the GTA and picks up orders from several different suppliers.
“We bring products in on customer demand,” Neetu says. “We take feedback from customers to see if there’s anything else we can do to make their shopping better next time.”
Khatri and Neetu say their business has been growing since last summer, particularly in the last several months.
But the young couple’s journey to achieving this success wasn’t an easy one.
Neetu was the first to arrive in Canada in January 2019 on a study visa, leaving behind her jobs as a registered nurse, midwife, and professor – and for several months, her husband and young son as well.
“Coming to Canada was my dream since I was a child,” she says. “I did my studies at Sault College in the healthcare and administration program.”
“As a student, I was working towards getting my nursing license. There were a lot of struggles that I did not imagine since I was starting from scratch.”
“There was a point where I wondered, ‘why even come here?’ It was really hard.”
Khatri and their son Hargun arrived to the Sault in May 2019, and the father worked a number of different roles, such as a gas station supervisor, Algoma Steel cleaner, bartender, and security attendant.
Sometimes, he would work 20-hour days to ensure the family made ends meet.
“My husband had a dream to buy the grocery store since he moved here,” Neetu says.
Neetu got her nursing license in May 2020 and has been working as an RPN in long-term care ever since. She also landed a position as a nursing professor at Sault College and has enjoyed working with students again.
“Because I brought over my previous teaching experience and put it into practice here, I’ve been really liking it,” she says.
The family of three got their permanent residency in September 2021 and decided to buy a home in the P-Patch shortly after.
Khatri had actually worked as a manager for the former Indian Bazaar and felt there was more that could be done with the grocery store.
He decided to take over the lease at the Great Northern Road location and rename it to Indian Mart in July 2022, which was followed by expansion and renovation efforts shortly after.
Today, the proud owners feel their store has become a staple for newcomers and Canadian citizens alike.
“We have something for everyone here,” he says.
“We have people from all different backgrounds who shop here,” Neetu adds. “It’s a good chance to try something new.”
While there were moments in the last several years when times seemed dire, the young couple managed to find new ways to overcome a seemingly endless stream of unique challenges.
But they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
“With hard work, you can achieve anything,” Neetu says. “Nothing is impossible.”
“Whatever you put your mind to, you can achieve your goals,” Khatri adds. “We worked together and supported each other.”
The marital and business partners say their son Hargun has also transitioned very well to Canada, and they feel very fortunate to be living in the Sault.
“Initially, when he started going to school, he didn’t like it very much,” Neetu says. “The transition was a bit hard for him. But within a week, he was really quick with opening up to that environment. He loves school now.”
“The Indian community is really growing here,” Khatri adds. “Lots of students and families are coming here because it’s quiet and peaceful. People are very nice and helpful around here.”
“We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
“We’re very grateful to our families, friends, the Sault College instructors, and the city for making this all possible for us.”