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Waterloo’s T&T Supermarket feels privileged to feed the community

In this edition of 'Following Up', we speak with T&T Supermarket about the challenges of operating during a pandemic
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File photo by Mark Pare/KitchenerToday

It took almost six years for T&T Supermarket to expand into Waterloo Region, but a year-and-a-half since opening, they’ve become a fixture for grocery shopping in Waterloo’s university corridor.

T&T opened in Waterloo back in December 2018, which marked their 26th location to open in Canada, and only their second Ontario-based store to open outside the Greater Toronto Area. Will Liu is the local store manager and has been elated by the positive response from the community and neighbouring businesses.

“Our store has been well received by the local community since our opening,” Liu said. “We have received lots of great support from our neighbours, especially from the university students.”

The square footage of T&T’s Waterloo store is a little smaller than their flagship locations, but the grocer carries over 10,000 products, most of them imported from Asian countries. They feature over 900 snacks and over 200 varieties of soy sauce.

It makes for a unique shopping experience compared to other grocery chains.

One department in particular that Liu prides himself on is T&T’s bakery, where one of their most popular delicacies is a fresh fruit cake. But the crown jewel of T&T in Waterloo is their seafood department, a unique staple to the Waterloo location.

“We offer more than 40 types of live seafood in our open fish tanks,” Liu said. “We have a special seafood bar that’s the only seafood bar in the east region of the T&T company. You can grab the live seafood from the open tank in the seafood department and it will be transferred to the kitchen part, and our kitchen colleague will cook the live seafood for you in 15 to 20 minutes.”

As countless corporations and businesses shuttered their doors in March, the grocery sector is one of the few industries that kept their doors open. The pandemic thrust grocery stores into the limelight as an essential service, something nobody could have foreseen.

However, some chains were quicker than others to adapt new practices in the face of COVID-19. Waterloo’s T&T Supermarket location was one of the first grocers to require its employees to wear masks or face coverings, and one of the first to ask their customers to do the same.

“At T&T, we have a unique employee base that’s expecting a COVID-19 response closer to what the countries in Asia have implemented,” Liu said. “We believe wearing a facemask or face covering is one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When we started to do this in all T&T stores, colleagues fully supported the company’s decision.”

T&T was ahead of the curve as facemasks for employees became the new norm on March 19, and they required facemasks for customers on May 11. Meanwhile, face coverings weren’t required by law in Waterloo Region until July 13. 

Pre-shift temperature checks are required for employees, and temperature checks were required of customers for a brief period, although that policy was suspended during the summer months. Required temperature checks for T&T shoppers may be revisited in the fall.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, some customers may have felt uneasy about shopping in public, but Liu felt reassured by a conversation he overheard between a regular customer and someone they brought into the store for the first time.

“’Trust me, this is the best store in the world. You can just feel more safe shopping in T&T’s store.’ Those words are more encouragement and I’m really glad and really proud to hear those things,” Liu said.

A large portion of T&T’s customer base was university students, and with a fraction of students returning to campus in September, Liu notes that foot traffic has been a little slower as of late. On the flip side, Liu has noticed an increase in local residents and families discovering T&T Supermarket for the first time.

Back in March, they didn’t expect to become an essential service, but T&T Supermarket has weathered the storm together. They’re privileged to be in this position as a frontline service during a time of need.

“I’m really proud to work with my team and the whole T&T Team, too. Not only the frontline workers, but my colleagues in the head office. I think everybody is a hero. We try to do our best to feed the community, to feed our customers.”
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