J&J Supermarket, the hidden gem bringing South Philly together through Latino food
In business since 2012, Juan Carlos Romano’s grocery store is representative of the melting pot that is South Philly
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It’s easy to find a grocery store chain in Philadelphia, but it’s difficult to find authentic Hispanic products that many Latinos use.
J&J Supermarket has made it easy to find that one Spanish ingredient you absolutely need in order to make tamales, pastelitos, or other Hispanic comfort foods.
Owner Juan Carlos Romano bought the establishment in 2012 and started developing ideas on what his store would actually become.
“I wanted to showcase items that you cannot find at your local grocery chain for us Latinos, such as Bacalao (salted codfish), Yucca (a root vegetable only found in the Caribbean), and
Salchichon (Puerto Rican sausage) I wanted to bring all of that to the table,” said Romano to AL DÍA News.
The store prides itself on bringing imported goods from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Mexico, including some childhood favorites he used to eat while growing up in the Dominican Republic.
“We also have taino cookies, and galletitas de Leche, it can’t get more authentic than that,” Romano said.
Amid the pandemic, Romano’s business has been successful, but he wishes his success was under better circumstances.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a lot of foot traffic at the store. People were buying bags and bags of food and lots of water,” he said.
Romano and a few of his family members also made space to set up a small kitchen and cook genuine Dominican entrees like mangu, a side dish made from mashed green plantains, eggs, fried cheese, fried Dominican salami, and onions; sancocho, a popular Caribbean stew that consists of different meats and vegetables like calabaza, and guineo verde, and platano maduro, which are fried sweet plantains.
“I want to make sure that everything is available for anyone to try, whether your Hispanic or not, people should give the store a chance and try something new,” Romano said.
There has also been a vast difference in customers spanning from different walks of life, which Romano is very excited about.
“We have people from Asian backgrounds come in and buy our Spanish products, we also have African American people try our food and love it, we even have millennials come in and buy our imported products, it’s very nice to see,” he expressed.
He also explained that there aren’t really any local grocery store chains that are within walking distance, especially for older generations.
“I get a lot of older people and it’s heartwarming to see them come over every day to buy their essentials, especially when the local grocery store is so far away for them,” he explained.
As South Philly becomes a melting pot for different cultures, it is astonishing to see people from different customs come together and support small Latino-owned businesses.