In June 1989, Teody and Emma Francisco sold everything they own in the Philippines, including their mini-grocery store, to start a new life in Australia with their daughter Eileen and son Justin. Little do they know that owning a grocery store (a ‘sari-sari’ store) will be a big part of their journey in the country down under.
The Francisco family moved to Queanbeyan, New South Wales, on the border with the Australian Capital Territory when Emma’s sister sponsored them to stay permanently in Australia.
- Teody and Emma’s family moved to Australia in 1989 and first worked as a mechanic and cleaning assistant, respectively.
- The couple opened their first store in the garage of their home, which was only open on weekdays and weekends due to their busy schedule.
- Their ‘sari-sari’ store is now one of the most successful and visited Asian grocery stores in ACT.
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Teody and Emma’s journey: How the couple started their ‘sari-sari’ store in Canberra
“As soon as we landed in Australia, I knew in my heart that this is where we want to live permanently,” Teody recalled.
Teody worked as a mechanic to meet the conditions for their visas, while Emma started as a cleaning assistant, then got a job as an administrative clerk in a federal government department.
The adaptation, especially with the language barrier, was challenging. I remember someone from the office asking me to look for the files for a ‘Makata’, but I could not find it. Just to find out later that the person asked for the files for a ‘McArthur’, ”Emma joked.
Teody, on the other hand, started watching Australian football and cricket over the weekend to learn the sport, which helped him play conversations and make friends at work.
Both worked hard to achieve their dreams, which included owning a house and a car – something they imagined would not be possible in the Philippines, even if they worked multiple times. The decision to move abroad was worth it as they slowly ticked the boxes while navigating life as migrants.
The start of the ‘sari-sari’ store
When Emma was offered a layoff package at her full-time job, she took advantage of it and decided to set up a mini-store in the garage of their home. Teody and Emma would only open their store to customers on weekdays and weekends as Emma continued to work casually while Teody still kept her job as a mechanic.
“We only sold Filipino products in the beginning. Then the word spread like wildfire in the Philippine community in ACT,” Emma said.
The products sold as’new‘or Filipino shrimp paste, banana ketchup and Filipino noodles and snacks.
As the store in their home began to attract more and more customers, Teody decided to quit her job and joined Emma full time in running the store.
Fyshwick, a suburb of southern Canberra where the market is located, became the new home for their grocery store. As they can display and sell more products after moving to the store, other nationalities, including Australians, are starting to flock to their new store.
“We listed all the products our customers were looking for and did our best to buy from our suppliers in Sydney. The list filled a notebook, but that did not deter us. We took it as an opportunity to expand our merchandise,” said Emma.
Teody and Emma continue to enjoy what they do. The weekly drive to Sydney and the teasing of customers and suppliers in their nearly 20 years in the industry makes the Francisco couple happy – like a call being fulfilled.
Secrets behind their success
One thing the couple has learned over the years where they have been in the grocery business is the importance of community.
“I was a shy person back in the Philippines, but here I learned to talk confidently with people,” Teody said.
Sometimes the couple was invited to attend three events in one evening, so they had to split up to attend a party each and send a representative to the third just to fulfill everyone’s invitation.
Their store became a gateway for them to make many friends in the community and help new Filipino migrants settle in Canberra.
Teody and Emma generously share their blessings with all who need their help. It makes them happy.
“Some of the products in our store that do not sell well, we give away to Filipinos before the expiration date. Instead of wasting these things, they go to households with international students or single parents who are very grateful for our gesture, ”Emma said.
The couple said their success is not only theirs but that of the Filipino community in ACT.
When asked what the secret behind their performance is, they said that being hardworking, practical and brave helped them sail through.
Teody said people first told them it would be hard to start a business. But they neglected the comments, and with sheer courage they continued. It was one of the best decisions they have ever made.
Teody and Emma no longer have plans to expand their business or open a new store. They are very well satisfied with how their business is going.
But retirement is not yet in sight for the hard-working couple who live with their son Justin in their beautiful home overlooking the scenic mountain ranges around the Canberra region.