Aziza Popat, owner of Urban Bulk Emporium, Queen Street’s new bulk food store (since 2015), is no stranger to the bulk food business. Both her grandparents and parents ran bulk food stores. Growing up, she spent much of her spare time helping in the back room. “But when I was studying business entrepreneurship at Ryerson University,” she says, “my father thoroughly taught me the business side.”
How many different items would you think are in a bulk food store? Would you have guessed over 300? The items range from the expected array of grains, spices and baking ingredients to specialty items like free-range chicken eggs, organic spices and herbs, and products that are gluten, nut and/or dairy free.
“We even sell vegan marshmallows,” laughs Aziza. She tells the story of a mother looking for an item on her 6-year-old’s Santa list last December, “He had asked for our organic mango slices – imagine a kid asking for that!”
Although she “never thought she’d end up in the bulk food business herself,” there were no bulk food stores nearby in the Leslieville area where she and her husband Cory live. “I always wanted to open my own business,” she adds, “it seemed like a perfect fit, plus I didn’t want to end up in a corporate job working in a cubical!”
An avid cook, Aziza has a good sense of what to order, bringing in food from all over the world, but giving local producers a chance whenever possible. Customers are encouraged to bring their own containers so they only buy exactly what they want, in the quantity they intend to use (and therefore avoid wasting food).
Aziza is always in the store on weekdays, advising and talking with visitors. Because it’s the beginning of the year, many are stocking up on healthy items. “We’re selling a lot of our super foods these days,” she says, (items such as wheat grass powder, hemp and flax seeds). Two other very popular items are the toasted coconut chips and the granola.
After a year in operation, the couple has made many friends. Last year ahead of their wedding, various customers showed up with flowers and good wishes. Now expecting their first child, Aziza already has received a bag of gently used baby items from a customer, “It is just so sweet of everyone,” says Aziza, “we’re not just building a business here, we’re building wonderful relationships.”
Urban Bulk Emporium
1380 Queen St. E., 647-344-8075