New bodegas take customers on a sweet trip down memory lane

As the pandemic has brought a new wave of business to Vancouver, "five-star" convenience stores are bringing an elevated experience to sweets-seeking customers

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By Lauren Vanderdeen

This story has been updated to include video filmed at Lucky’s Exotic Bodega.

Modern bodegas are connecting the South Vancouver community and bringing nostalgia to customers through childhood snacks.

Bodega refers to a small mart or grocery store that originated in New York. During the COVID-19 pandemic, several of the specialty snacks shops opened in Vancouver and quickly gained popularity. Lucky’s Exotic Bodega was one of them. 

Lucky’s first location opened near Playland in October 2020. The shelves of the New York-style bodega are packed with specialty products like the flavoured Pickle-in-a-Pouch, collectible Pokémon Oreos and even oyster-flavoured chips from Thailand.

Tim Voss, the owner of Lucky’s, said he wanted to create a welcoming store, where the community can come together and bond.

“The idea behind the exotic snacks came from wanting to do something different, something that’s not the same old convenience store.”

Nostalgia attracts

When it comes to the reasoning behind the popularity modern bodegas have gained in recent years, Voss said nostalgia plays a big role. 

Lucky’s offers many childhood snacks that are hard to find elsewhere, an example being Dunkaroos, which haven’t been available locally for years. 

“Dunkaroos were a big part of our childhood, and we all enjoyed Dunkaroos, and it went away,” Voss said. “It reminds us of those good days, the days we were younger when we were having fun playing with our bikes.”

Ahmed Shehata, the store manager at Lucky’s 41st Avenue location which opened last July, said the variety of nostalgic snacks is a huge attraction for customers.

“These are some things that I see and I’m like wow, I remember going to the convenience store when I was younger.”

Made for the community

Dank Mart on Main Street is another South Vancouver exotic snack bodega that opened during the pandemic.

Dani Burgas, a cashier at Dank Mart, said she loves the welcoming atmosphere created in bodegas. “You feel like you’re talking to your friends when you come here,” Burgas said.

Lucky’s Exotic Bodega’s storefront showcases its globally sourced snacks, streetwear, high-end sneakers and cigarettes. Shehata said Lucky’s is like a “five-star 7-Eleven” that provides an elevated experience compared to regular convenience stores. 

Shehata said the bodega’s combination of hip-hop culture and variety of snacks offers something for all customers. “I feel like anyone can come here and just walk out with something.”

Henry Nguyen has been a regular at Lucky’s for the past three months. He said he frequents Lucky’s for a specific strawberry shortcake ice cream bar.

“Ice cream trucks are kind of not around anymore,” Nguyen said. “When I found out this place had it, I was like, this is awesome.”

Voss said with the community’s support, the new bodegas that saw success during the pandemic will be here to stay. 

He said that sourcing and importing these exotic snacks was challenging last year. The business saw the cost of shipping containers rise from $1,500 to $15,000.  

“It definitely was a challenge,” Voss said. “But we believe that if we can survive in the pandemic, that we’ll be OK for the non-pandemic times as well.”

Watch an interview with Tim Voss, owner of Lucky’s:

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