A massive line-up of shoppers showed up for the opening day of Coquitlam's new Lougheed T&T Supermarket, located at 1085 Woolridge St.
The opening this morning (June 1) marked the 33rd store opening of the Asian grocery store juggernaut that got its start at Burnaby's Metropolis in Metrotown in 1993.
Tina Lee, daughter of founder Taiwan immigrant Cindy Lee, is the CEO of the operation now owned by Loblaws; she is also the second half of the T&T moniker, which was also named for Tina's sister Tiffany.
Before an opening day crowd of Coquitlam city officials, including Mayor Richard Stewart, and Coquitlam–Maillardville MLA Selina Robinson, suppliers and social media food influencers, Lee described the effort to find a location for a second Coquitlam store.
The Coquitlam Centre T&T Supermarket, opened in 2000, outgrew its location because of customer demand, Lee said.
And it took five years to find a second Coquitlam location.
Lee said she spotted the empty shell of the former Home Outfitters store while driving down Highway 1.
"We looked at this empty box and did a U-turn," Lee recalled.
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Back when T&T first started, Asian groceries that reminded people of home were hard to find.
Growing up in East Van, Lee recalled how her family had to go from butcher to baker to find Asian food products.
"Why can't we have an Asian version of the Safeway?" Lee said her family wondered.
From its humble beginnings, T&T is now a national brand, opening another store in Toronto just last week.
The brightly lit store has a wide range of Asian products, including a giant seafood section, featuring 14-pound crabs, spot prawns and fresh lobster in bubbly tanks visible to the public.
Lee said that in addition to food products, customers should also find good deals.
Like a hawker in days of old, Lee listed out a number of products that she said were priced low, including durian, imported from Vietnam at $9.88 that is the "lowest price in the country."
She also invited people to "explore" food and share it with "joy."
"Life is too short to eat just to be full. You have to enjoy food to the fullest," Lee said.
"Be together, eat together in person and eat for joy."
Mayor Stewart welcomed T&T and congratulated the store for participating in a food waste program that re-purposes edible food that can be turned into meals.
Run by the Immigrant Link Centre Society, a new food hub is developing in Coquitlam that will gather food from grocery stores for distribution to people who need it.
Stewart said efforts by grocery stores, like T&T, to re-purpose food will help with "food insecurity" in the city.
Meanwhile outside, a crowd of customers eager to shop at the new store was growing quickly, with a line-up of cars waiting to enter the parking lot.
Some people who parked at the nearby IKEA store were running to get in line before the store opened at 9 a.m.
Once inside, they were treated to a well-laid out and not-too-large store, with canned goods, spices, sauces and other meal prep items in the centre and a seafood and meat area, fruits and vegetables, a bakery and kitchen around the walls.
Among the notable food services was a self-serve area to purchase Asian hot food items, a well stocked bakery with T&T's signature mango cakes, items for homemade dim sum and fresh sushi.
The nearly 38,000 sq. ft. store took a year to build and cost roughly $10 million, Lee said.