Little Haiti Grocer Offers Mom-and-Pop Service During the Pandemic

During the coronavirus crisis, Zubi Supermarket serves the Little Haiti community and beyond.
During the coronavirus crisis, Zubi Supermarket serves the Little Haiti community and beyond. Photo courtesy of Zubi Supermarket
For a quarter of a century, Zubi Supermarket & Fish House has served Little Haiti by keeping its residents supplied with groceries, staples, and an on-premises restaurant dishing up freshly prepared meals, coffee, and sandwiches.

The neighborhood grocery store doesn't boast the vast inventory of a big-box retailer, but Ernie Perez and his family work hard to give their customers what they want and need.

That goes double during a pandemic.

Zubi offers shoppers everything from toilet paper to fresh produce to facemasks. And, Perez tells New Times, if one of his customers can't afford to purchase a mask ($2 including tax), he gives them one.

"I don't want to turn anyone away. I've grown up with the people who live here, and I've seen their children grow in turn. It's like family," says Perez, who took the reins of the market from his parents in 2016.

"We just got a shipment of hand sanitizer, and the grocery side is fully stocked," the neighborhood retailer reports. "We might not have the brand of toilet paper you want, but we have some. We might not carry the exact-size bottle of ketchup you're looking for, but we do have ketchup."

And the restaurant now offers delivery through Uber Eats, Postmates, and Grubhub daily from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Still, competing with the big boys is difficult, especially when it comes to delivery. Perez says he was in the process of being approved by Instacart when the new coronavirus came to town.

Now he's delivering groceries himself — up to an eight-mile radius — as a service to his customers. "I had a customer call me today who felt uneasy about leaving her house," he says. "I shopped for and scanned each item, and I delivered it myself.

"You do what you have to do."

"Everyone seems to be adapting to this new norm."

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Perez is also willing to open Zubi to first responders and hospital workers who might need to shop before or after regular hours. "I would absolutely open the store earlier in the morning or later in the evening for frontline workers," he says. "There are quite a few people in the neighborhood who work at Jackson Memorial. Maybe it will benefit them."

Though stories about local restaurants struggling to survive during the crisis abound in the media, mom-and-pop grocers aren't garnering nearly as much attention.

"The big chains can support themselves. Why not support your local grocer?" Perez posits. In exchange, he points out, customers will receive something they might not find in the aisles of Publix, Whole Foods, or Target: hospitality. "We're your friendly neighborhood market."

The small-business owner says it has been a challenge to stay stocked in an environment where distributors are constantly altering pricing and inventory. "A crate of eggs has nearly doubled in price for me," he notes. "I'm not price-gouging, but I have had to adjust prices to keep afloat."

That said, the atmosphere at Zubi Supermarket has, for the most part, remained steady-as-she-goes.

"Everyone seems to be adapting to this new norm," Perez says. "The mask issue was new to some people. But we have a six-foot-distancing rule in effect, and we have signs up. Once in a while, I'll go on the intercom and remind people, but honestly, everyone knows we're all in this together."

And one piece of advice from a neighborhood grocer to those who're stressing because they can't find all the supplies they need:

"People really need to take a deep breath. Stay confined, and take things day by day. We'll get through this.

"And if you need toilet paper, I have some."

Zubi Supermarket & Fish House. 5700 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-758-7773; Supermarket hours: Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Café hours: Daily 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss