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Bottom Line: Asian grocery store in Lebanon hits 20-year milestone

  • It has been 20 years since Sheena Arora opened the Asian Super Store on the mall in Lebanon, N.H., 20 years ago. “I just started it as a fluke, just to keep me busy, because we were not getting any Indian food here,” said Arora on Wednesday, June 24, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Rajesh Arora runs FunDoo Trade and Tours, arranging trips to India and Europe from his office in the rear of the Asian Super Store on Thursday, June 24, 2021. During the pandemic, his business has diminished to mostly arrainging emergency travel for people visiting ill relatives, but business is starting to come back. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sheena Arora scans a UPS package for her customer Thomas, who declined to give his last name, at the Asian Super Store on the mall in Lebanon, N.H., Thursday, June 24, 2021. After noticing an overflowing UPS drop box near the store, Arora opened up a drop-off and pick-up site for the shipper. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 6/26/2021 9:45:40 PM
Modified: 6/26/2021 9:45:40 PM

When Rajesh and Sheena Arora opened their Indian grocery and food market in Lebanon 20 years ago, they didn’t come across a lot of people in the Upper Valley like them.

“There was not a huge Asian and Indian community in the Upper Valley in 2001,” Rajesh Arora said in his cramped office at Asian Super Store, where he and his wife, Sheena, operate their ethnic food grocery market on the Lebanon Mall. “We would hardly see other people from India.”

A lot happened in 20 years. The Aroras raised two children — a daughter who is an ophthalmic assistant at Dartmouth-Hitchcock and a son headed off to study cybersecurity at the Rochester Institute of Technology. They expanded their market to sell foods from not just India but all of Asia.

And the most significant change: The Indian and Asian community in the Upper Valley has grown enormously as students have come to study at Dartmouth and its business, engineering and medical schools. Also, Indian and Asian professionals have joined the staffs at D-H and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital.

The food scene in the Upper Valley reflects these demographic trends: There will soon be two new Thai restaurants in Lebanon, bringing to a total of five in the Lebanon-Hanover area. In addition, Yiping’s Asian Market, owned by Yiping Weed and which originally opened in Hanover’s Nugget Alley in 2008, moved to West Lebanon’s Main Street a couple years later, where it still operates.

The rising Indian and Asian population means that what initially began two decades ago as a small business for Sheena Arora to manage while caring for their young daughter has grown into an international market that attracts customers from as far away as Rutland and St. Johnsbury, Vt., to buy Nepalese dumplings, wasabi mayonnaise, kits to make sweet spiral-shaped jalebi, traditional India kulfi ice cream and thousands of other Asian food items.

The Aroras estimate about 50% of their customers are Indian, 25% are students and 25% are non-Indian residents of the Upper Valley.

Born and raised in India — Rajesh from the northern Punjab region and Sheena from the southern Kerala region — they moved to the Upper Valley in 2000 from New York City when Rajesh went to work for a Lebanon software developer, where he ran the in-house travel agency.

Rajesh took over ownership of the travel agency, FunDoo Travel & Tours, after the company left Lebanon, which he continues to operate today, mostly assisting Indians and Asians on travel plans to their native countries.

But the travel agency has largely been shut down the past year because of the pandemic, Rajesh said, so they have had to depend on the market for their livelihood. Fortunately, people spending more time at home means more time cooking, which means no shortage of customers at Asian Super Store.

“I never thought I’d be surviving for 20 years, but it’s still growing and that’s a good thing,” Rajesh Arora said.

Vegan ’scream in Quechee

A vegan diet excludes dairy products like ice cream, but now it’s possible to adhere to the dairy-free ethos while indulging in a creamy treat on a hot summer day.

Andrew Switz and Rachael Henne, founders of CBD products company RopaNa Wellness, have opened Conscious Cravings, a vegan “ice cream” parlor at the Quechee Gorge Village.

Switz said the entrepreneur-oriented couple whose Sharon-based ”artisanal” CBD products company was early to the CBD party in Vermont are expanding into the cravings-for-sweets space by selling FoMu brand vegan ice cream at the busy Route 4 tourist destination.

FoMu, based in Massachusetts, has four locations in the Boston area and during the pandemic began wholesaling its plant-based, non-dairy product that has a gelato-like texture.

Made from coconut milk instead of dairy, FoMu’s frozen dessert comes in a dozen flavors to which Switz and Henne will add their own “over the top” sundaes, such as “Vermont Awakening” (cold brew coffee flavor ice cream topped with chopped walnuts, graham crackers and maple syrup) and “The Unicorn” (strawberry and sweet lavender ice cream topped with fruity pebbles, Swedish fish, sour patch kids, rainbow sour belts and a ‘birthday cake’ Oreo).

For $2 extra, they will sprinkle their CBD tincture on top of a serving.

Switz said that they will also be selling their line of RopaNa CBD products at the store and add vegan bakery items as well. The vegan ice cream parlor will be open Friday and Saturday from noon to 5 and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“We’re going to begin with weekends and see how it takes off from there,” Switz said.

The fine print

A Bradford, Vt., institution has put itself up for sale as the longtime owner eyes retirement

Mark Johnson, owner of Bliss Village Store & Deli, has listed the Main Street lunch counter and convenience store for sale with an asking price of $449,900.

Johnson, who has operated the store for 22 years — he tried selling the business in 2011 only to take it back 17 months later after the buyer was unable to pay the note — said he has had a few inquiries but none he would consider serious at this point.

“I’m not in a hurry. I realize it can take a couple years,” he said about finding a buyer.

Long popular with work crews stopping to grab one of the deli counter’s famous beer-battered haddock, fries and slaw plates or “small” steak bomb subs, the Bliss Village Store has been one of the few mainstays in downtown Bradford, which in recent years has seen a sweeping turnover in storefront businesses.

Let’s hope the next owner sticks with the deli counter’s recipes for success.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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