A Filipino nanny’s big success story
A Filipino nanny’s big success story
Neepawa, Manitoba, after countless jobs and tragedy
By Michelle Chermaine Ramos
The Philippine Reporter
After Edith Strange worked in Singapore as a nanny for four years, she decided to immigrate to Canada through the Caregiver Program in 1991 to work as a nanny for a family in the small town of Redvers in Saskatchewan. She later moved to Brandon, Manitoba, where she worked for Maple Leaf Foods for ten years cutting meat. It was there where she met her husband, Garry Strange.
Today, although she’s enjoying the fruits of her labor now owning a farm and other real estate along with running her own Asian grocery store in Neepawa and another in Brandon, her early years in Canada had this self-professed workaholic juggling five jobs back in 1991.
“I used to have five jobs when I was single. I used to clean buildings. I was a nanny and my boss asked me to work at the bakeries, something like that in Redvers. And then after that, when I moved to Brandon, I met my husband and worked in different places like McDonalds, Maple Leaf, and waitressing. Name it. Any kind of job, I worked all those,” she said. On top of all that, she still made time to teach kids Bible study sessions at her church.
She and Garry got married and she gave birth to their boys, Tim and Tom after whom Tim Tom Asian Grocery was named. The couple came up with the idea to open a Filipino grocery business after making several trips to Winnipeg in Garry’s truck to stock up on Filipino products which they brought back to their friends in Brandon. At that point, Edith wanted to leave her job anyway after experiencing bullying in the workplace.
They opened their first store at 541 8th Street in Brandon in 2009. Unfortunately, in February 2011, Garry died when his car rolled over on the icy road close to their home in the small town of Killarney, Manitoba. Before his untimely death, they had planned to open a branch in the small town of Neepawa at the request of their Filipino customers in Neepawa. Back then, there were no Filipino stores in Neepawa and their customers had to drive all the way to Brandon to buy the products they wanted.
Garry was in the process of finding a location to open a store in Neepawa before his tragic accident. Although Edith was still dealing with the grief of losing him so suddenly, she resolved not to let his dream to die with him. “I still had to continue whatever he left behind that he didn’t do. So I kept dreaming that he said ‘you have to do it’. He kept telling me ‘You have to do my store in Neepawa. You know, you have to continue on’. Even the Filipinos, they kept telling me ‘you have to continue what your husband wants. You have to put one for us here in Neepawa’. So okay, I said to this Filipino community to help me find a place to put it up there and you have to support this store because this is yours,” she said.
The community helped her find a storefront and they opened Tim Tom Asian Grocery at 402 Mountain Avenue in Neepawa in July 2011. Edith became a widow who had to raise her sons, 8-year-old Tim, and 5-year-old Tom, alone. But with her determination, she was able to create a thriving business with the support of the Filipino community, which enabled her to help her family back in Laguna in the Philippines. She managed to help her niece and nephew attend university and help her brother start a business back home. Now, she is also trying to bring one of her nieces to Canada on a student visa.
Despite all her struggles, Edith said that she enjoys doing business and was never afraid of setbacks. Her strong mindset and positive attitude comes from her faith. “I know that God is with me. He’s there to help me. All the work that I’ve been doing, I know that He’s giving me a lot of strength, you know, like, he’s my hero. He’s the one doing all this for me, helping me.” she said.
The stores are still going strong and according to Edith, sales actually grew during the pandemic due to people panic buying and staying home to cook their own meals. The business attracts customers from other ethnic communities including Nigerians whose products they also carry.
When asked about what she learned on her entrepreneurial journey and what advice she would like to share with others, she emphasized the importance of overcoming fear and negative thinking. Edith’s journey is an example of courageously failing forward trying different things to reach success by discovering what works for her.
Her entrepreneurial spirit was born back in the Philippines when she first asked her mother if she could open her own store at home when she was in grade six. Years later as a high school student, she started her own embroidery business. Aside from the Tim Tom Asian grocery stores she now owns in Manitoba, she also opened a Filipino restaurant in Neepawa which closed in 2015 costing her $70,000. She also advises others to think very carefully before entering partnerships and being carried away with the hype of producing events involving Filipino celebrities after she lost $40,000 in 2018.
Despite all that, she was not discouraged and kept pushing forward. She estimates that it took about five or six years for the first Tim Tom Asian Grocery store to make good money. “God has been very nice to me. He gave me back all the money that I lost anyway. So my business is growing and growing because of the pandemic. My sales tripled during the pandemic,” she happily reported. Her sons and trusted employees are now working in the stores so she can take time to relax and work from home.
Now 58 years-old, she has observed how some negative thinkers have reached old age without pursuing their dreams after they convinced themselves to not even try by constantly imagining worst-case scenarios and being crippled by fear.
“I mean, when you’re in your 50s you’re not that old, right? I knew this group of Filipinos who said, ‘Oh, I’m too old already. I can’t do this. I can’t do that’. Like I said to myself, as long as you live in this earth, do something. What do you want? Just wait whenever you die (laughs)? Enjoy life. Like anything that you want to do, just keep doing as long as you’re happy,” she said.