Growing up in the province of Bulacan, Philippines, Bryan Discaya remembers spending time helping his mom run her sari-sari convenience store from the lower level of their Calumpit home.
He didn’t know it at the time, but it was this experience selling Filipino foods and other goods to folks in the neighbourhood that served as a precursor to running his own Filipino-themed grocery store in Kelowna years later.
But operating his own business wasn’t his original plan. In fact, he enrolled in the nursing program at Centro Escolar University in Manila in 2006. Three years later, he transferred to Dr. Yanga College in Bocaue, remaining in the nursing field. It was here where he met his future wife, Julie, who was also studying nursing.
In 2011, Discaya, his five siblings and his mother joined his dad in Kelowna, who had moved to the Okanagan in 2007. Julie arrived in 2015, a year after the two got married in a ceremony at home.
Discaya considered continuing his nursing studies here in Canada, but soon realized that it wasn’t for him.
“First, I actually wanted to be a mechanic. But then I realized maybe it would be better if I did a business instead, like an entrepreneur,” he said.
In 2013, he worked as a store manager at the Pearl of the Orient, a Kelowna-based Filipino store that shuttered its doors just a few years ago. Following the store’s closure, he realized that he wanted to launch his own.
“I want to represent the community and myself so that people recognize the Filipinos, what we have, the culture,” he said.
He was already providing minor remittances and sending balikbayan boxes to the Philippines — boxes full of food, treats, clothes and other items Filipino-Canadians send to their families back home. He thought about opening an online-based Filipino store but backed out as he felt that it would be challenging to regulate.
“I noticed before that there’s a Japanese restaurant, a Chinese restaurant, a German restaurant, an Indian restaurant,” he said. “How come there’s no Filipino restaurant, no Filipino store? Maybe I should start one of those.”
So, in 2020, he started doing some research on how he could kickstart his own business. He started saving money and auctioning off his belongings to have enough funds to bring the store to life.
It was on March 3, of this year when Discaya opened the doors to his Ishop Pinas Filipino Store, which is just one of two dedicated Filipino stores in the Okanagan, alongside Penticton’s EDSA Minimart.
For the past four months, he and his wife have been selling everything from pancit, adobo, and sinigang mixes, as well as spring rolls, turon and more to the community. Handmade abaca bags can also be found at the store. All products are straight from the Philippines, by way of Vancouver.
“We call it WayBack90’s foods — you can’t find it anywhere here,” he said, referring to the popular Philippines-based restaurant of the same name.
The store also offers a service that allows local Filipinos to send remittances and balikbayan boxes back home, be it air or sea cargo.
“When my dad came here or if he was going to other countries, he always sent us balikbayan boxes,” he said. “We were always excited — the balikbayan boxes are here!”
Additionally, the store sells Daing na Bangus — marinated milkfish — that are prepared by Filipinos in town.
“They want to put their products here. I let them display their products here so I can help them too,” he said.
The plan is to expand the business online, where he said he wants to provide Filipinos living in rural Canadian communities a platform where they can access and purchase Filipino goods.
“I don’t want to just do this business for myself. I don’t want to be selfish. If there’s someone asking for my help, I’ll help,” he said.
Located at 2070 Harvey Ave., the store is open seven days a week, and Discaya is there every day. Five days a week, Julie covers while he works 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. at his second job as a care aid worker at Glenmore Lodge. Once his shift ends there, he goes straight to the Ishop Pinas Filipino Store.
“I see the difference when you’re working for somebody else versus when you work for yourself,” he said. “You never get tired of yourself. You’re putting in all your efforts and energy. It’s worth it.”