By Kathy McGrath

While many people ramped down their businesses during the pandemic, Hirosh and Chamila Abeywardane were gearing up for the grand opening of their new store. In late February, the husband and wife duo opened Ceylon Supermarket in the Centennial Plaza at Port Union Road and Lawrence Ave.

“I felt confident I would not be shut down at any time since grocery stores are considered essential,” Hirosh explained. Last spring, he was on a month-long medical leave from his job as a customer service manager at Walmart when the pandemic hit. During that time he had a chance to think about the big life change he always dreamed of making. He extended his absence to work out the particulars of opening his own store.

“I did some research and discovered there were no grocery stores within reasonable walking distance from this plaza,” said Hirosh. He is familiar with the area through his attendance at a nearby Buddhist temple. Drawing on their Sri Lankan heritage, Hirosh and Chamila decided to offer South Asian and traditional western merchandise, thereby serving both communities. Products include fresh fruit and vegetables, dry goods, spices, dairy products, deli fare and condiments. 

Hirosh said his landlord at the plaza was enthusiastic about the addition of a grocery store and was very co-operative through the renovation process. Drawing on his 15 years of experience at Walmart, Hirosh put a lot of forethought into the efficient interior design. Conscious of ensuring customer safety, for example, he installed custom-made shelves that allow for wider aisles.

Shoppers have reacted enthusiastically to the shop and many have remarked they have waited a long time for a local grocery store, he said. (hoping to get an original quote from customer instead of this sentence.)

One product that has pleased customers is a collection of clay cooking pots that almost sold out in the first few days. “They were more popular than I expected,” said Hirosh,  and he has ordered more stock. He explained that immigrants of all backgrounds are familiar with the cookware which, in this case, is microwaveable and safe for gas stoves.

The thing that sets Ceylon Supermarket apart from the bigger stores, he said, is the staff’s ability to offer personalized customer service. “Recently a gentleman purchased a coconut, but he didn’t know how to break it properly, so my wife and her sister (Meneka) showed him how to do it.”

Hirosh also offered to unhinge a side door for a customer who could not fit through the entryway with her double stroller. “I told her to let me know when she wants to come in and I will open the larger door for her.”

As Sinhalese-speaking people, Hirosh and his family can also offer service in their native language. They have met quite a few local Sinhalese families since opening the store.

The Abeywardanes look forward to eventually running an event to connect with the larger community.