Meet the Filipino resident bringing a 'sari-sari' store to Dubai

A popular concept in the Philippines, sari-sari is a neighbourhood shop that serves the local community

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In the 1970s, when Ronald Awa was just seven years old, he would help to weigh spices and herbs for customers while working on his mother's tiny sari-sari stall.

A popular concept in the Philippines, sari-sari, which loosely translates as ‘different, different’ in English, is a neighbourhood shop that serves the local community with an array of produce.

Customers looking to save money and steer away from the usual supermarket bulk buys can pick up single items or exact measurements of spices and sauces for a fraction of the cost.

Having grown up helping to run his family's sari-sari store, Mr Aaw, 57, said the money generated from the sales helped to pay for his education.

If you need a small amount of vinegar or soy sauce but you don’t want to buy a whole bottle, we can measure out just what you need
Ronald Awa, Dubai resident

Having lived in Dubai for nearly three decades, he now wants to bring that concept from home to the desert.

“It basically operates as a window store, whereby customers simply make their request at the window before handing over cash for produce,” he said.

“If you need a small amount of vinegar or soy sauce but you don’t want to buy a whole bottle, we can measure out just what you need.

“If you want just one onion or tomato, you can buy just one onion or tomato.

“I’ve been thinking about opening a sari-sari store in Dubai for a long time. It will help out the local Kabayan community, save them money and bring that feeling of home to their doorsteps.”

A twist on tradition

A sari-sari store in the Philippines. Photo: Getty

Having worked in human resources for Emirates airline for 28 years, Mr Awa said now feels like the right time to open his own store.

He aims cater to “modern life with a traditional twist”, and is in the process of teaming up with investors to make his dream a reality.

“This isn’t a new concept for the Philippines but it will be something new for Dubai,” he said.

“I will enhance the traditional sari-sari store with a different flavour, a flavour that will serve not just the Filipino community but others too.

“Usually, back home, sari-sari stores have a coffee or barber shop running alongside the store where people can bring their own coffee and sit down and play chess, drafts or billiards.

“It’s a place that really serves the community and brings people together.”

As well as selling small servings of produce such as fruit, vegetables, spices and sauces, the store will sell canned goods.

Customers will be encouraged to directly trade their products with the sari-sari store in return for basic articles, cash or other supplies.

“What is common in the Philippines is that if people have oversupply of food at home like canned goods, they can sell them to us in exchange for cash or another item,” said Mr Awa.

“We also want to encourage people to bring stuff from Philippines that they can sell to us, but that requires the right permits and go-ahead from the authorities here, which I am currently working on getting.

“I’m still looking at how I will price my items because I have to check out what supermarkets are selling similar items for, but some will cost as little as 25 fils, maybe less.”

Sights set on old Dubai

Mr Awa is looking to open his shop in Rigga then, depending on its success, expand to Satwa and Karama where there are big crowds of Filipinos and other nationalities that are familiar with the sari-sari way of life.

He sharing his own accommodation with friends in Bur Dubai. Mr Awa said he is all too familiar with the limited amount of space people have to store things.

His shop will help to cut down on waste and give people the option of saving money and buying exactly what they need at any given time, he said.

No bigger than the size of a room in a house, the sari-sari store will cost about Dh10,000 to fit out and will operate from 3pm to midnight. Mr Awa said he hopes to have his first store up and running within a few months.

“So many people have already come to me telling me how excited they are to see something like this in Dubai,” he said.

“Because this is a store that serves the community and acts as a social spot for the like-minded, I’d love to hear what ideas people have and what they would like to see in the store.”

Updated: June 21, 2022, 11:58 AM