Ruby’s Market’s mission is to support immigrant and refugee communities
On a sunny Thursday afternoon last summer, a shopper browses the carefully stocked shelves of over a dozen brands of hot sauces and salsas at Ruby’s Market, an artisan store housed in a former brick duplex of South Pearl Street. Inside the Platt Park building, four ivory-walled rooms are lined with tables and shelves displaying more than 175 snacks, spices, cooking utensils, textiles, jewelry, plants and other products made by local artisans and worldwide, the majority of whom identify as women or as members of immigrant, refugee or indigenous communities. In one room, a house sign stating âWelcome Refugeesâ in large yellow letters hangs over a fireplace next to an exhibition of colorful animal paintings by Iraqi artist Mousa Al Khafaji. Reggae plays softly in the background, and the scent of hot spices wafts through the air as a woman shopping with her school-aged daughter chats with owner Michelle Lasnier. âJust stop in the alley,â Lasnier says as the couple exit through the front door. âI’ll be there in a few minutes.
We are August 26th. Earlier today, a suicide bomber detonated explosives outside Kabul airport in Afghanistan. In the 10 days following the collapse of that country’s government, Lasnier had partnered with Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains and African Community Center to organize a collection of pantry and toiletries for Afghan refugees settling in Colorado. When the last customer from his store comes out, Lasnier rushes behind a fabric curtain and exits the back door of the building to meet the woman, who is parked in the alley. There, she hands out Lasnier grocery bags filled with travel shampoos and laundry detergent to store in Ruby’s backyard, garage and storeroom, which serves as an emergency pantry for communities in refugees and immigrants from the Denver metro area. The storage spaces, which total approximately 2,000 square feet, are full of donated items: piles of packaged menstrual pads and baby diapers; a wall of electric kettles; tables filled with sacks of basmati rice, dried lentils and nuts; and reusable laundry baskets and tote bags packed with paper towel rolls.
Minutes later, Lasnier is back in the store, explaining that she’s still running out of one of Ruby’s bestsellers, Dead Veggies kimchi. The 50-year-old can even identify the facial expressions of customers looking for a jar of the popular fermented cabbage. “They look forward to the refrigerator when they open the door,” she said, shifting her gaze to the small cooler in the corner of the room. âPeople fall in love with these products once they try them, so it’s hard when I can’t restock and have to stop them. It’s just that juggling small businesses.
Since Ruby’s Market opened for in-store shopping in June 2020, Lasnier’s juggling has included managing the store’s operations on her own while also arranging meet-ups in the alley to collect donations for the guard. -eat up to three times a day, seven days a week. While she gracefully oversees both worlds, it was not her original vision for the business.
Lasnier’s death to work with artisans who blossomed six years ago, when she started volunteering with the We Made This professional skills program at the African Community Center (ACC). Lasnier helped attendees sell bags, accessories, and clothing â made in ACC classrooms â at farmers’ markets and other events. Their ingenuity inspired her to create the non-profit R Bazaar in 2017. The traveling incubator supports artisans, chefs and entrepreneurs, with a focus on those who are members of refugee, immigrant communities and Indigenous, through pop-up markets and mentoring.
Three years later, Lasnier quit her full-time job as a corporate event planner to open Ruby’s Market as the base of R Bazaar and fulfill her long-held dream of owning a mission-driven business. (The store’s name is a nod to her late grandmother’s birthstone; the Brazilian native lived as an immigrant in Portugal and the United States.)
When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the store’s opening in March 2020, Lasnier opened a temporary emergency pantry in space after realizing that many manufacturers considering selling their products at Ruby’s were particularly vulnerable to the sudden economic downturn. . To generate income and meet the growing demand for online grocery sales, she also launched what she called a ‘market box’ program, offering fresh, shelf-stable foods sourced from local producers, such as Rebel Farms, Syrian Sweet Baklava and Pint’s Peak Ice Cream. , for weekly pickup from the aisles. This gave him the funds to manage the pantry in conjunction with ACC and Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, who faced increased demand for pantry and supply services and appreciated the food storage capacity. and assistance from Ruby. In 2020, the two Denver-based human services agencies supported more than 4,700 refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants from around 12 countries. They predict that 50 more families, including at least 800 Afghans, will arrive in Colorado in early 2022.
Because many refugees are employed in hard-hit restaurants, hotels and other sectors of the hospitality industry, many were made redundant at the start of the pandemic, resulting in the highest demand for VAC services in 20-year history of the nonprofit, says Kate Weatherbee, CCA Volunteer Coordinator. âThere was often a gap between when families became unemployed and when they were able to access unemployment and / or other benefits. [like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP], “she says.” So Ruby’s has become a critical way for us to bring food and supplies to families who really, really need them throughout 2020 and even into early 2021. “
Agencies sent Lasnier lists of family needs and mobilized a network of volunteers to deliver packages of non-perishable food, cleaning supplies and toiletries collected at Ruby’s to households in the metro area. Lasnier posted appeals for donations on Ruby’s social media accounts and received an overwhelmingly positive response. Because people in many cultures are not used to eating the processed products available at other food banks (think: canned mac and cheese and canned soup), Lasnier has done his best to put together culturally appropriate foods. , such as dried beans, basmati rice, and black tea. From April to December 2020, volunteers delivered $ 84,435 worth of groceries, including more than 300 Thanksgiving Holiday care packages, to 503 people, all thanks to Ruby’s efforts, according to Weatherbee.
Lasnier planned to revert to his original business model – the artisan store – a few months after the start of the pandemic, but the need for donations has not abated. With the help of 12 rotating volunteers and collecting supplies as needed, such as the Afghan Refugee Event, she continues to prepare donations for 30 to 40 families each week. While the unexpected ability to serve the needs of the community on a volunteer basis through the pantry has become a staple of Lasnier’s daily life, she also wants to make an impact through the store.
Although the Market Box program remains popular, Opening sales in person at Ruby’s Market gave Lasnier the opportunity to increase his income and promote his merchants by sharing the stories behind the products in the store as often as possible. âI want to know what suppliers want to communicate, where they are from, why they started their business,â she says. âI feel like I talk too much sometimes, but customers are like, No, no, we want to know. And if that could help to integrate these cultures, it is my personal mission. What a victory if we can do that and at least break down some barriers. “
Lasnier’s encouragement and mentorship has made her an ally to many of her salespeople, who pay Ruby’s a small commission on products sold at the store, at events, and at market boxes. Before meeting Lasnier, Madhavi Tandon, chef-owner of Maia Foods, struggled to find the right place to sell her ghee, spice mixes, meal kits and pastries. The homemade creations are inspired by her upbringing in West India, and she didn’t want to alter them to be more accessible to those unfamiliar with Indian cuisine for the sole purpose of boosting sales. âI want to stay authentic, and Michelle really supports all of our chefs by being as authentic as we want them to be,â she says. âWe can own what we make. “
It’s evident on a Sunday morning in mid-July, as the Denverites stand side by side at stalls selling freshly baked pies, plump palisade peaches, and leafy houseplants at the South Pearl Street Farmer’s Market. There is a tent set up in front of Ruby’s, where Lasnier presents a different group of makers each week; Flana Soap owner Leila Baroudi and catering chef Vicky Mayanya of Vicky’s Thai Kitchen are on deck this weekend. Mayanya serves customers glasses of Thai iced coffee and containers of chicken fried rice while Baroudi answers customer questions about his Lebanese soaps, bath bombs, candles and lotions. Behind them, a steady stream of shoppers come in and out of Ruby’s Market.
At 1 p.m., Lasnier and his team clear the stand and transport the tent to Ruby’s Alley, where cars will start arriving to pick up market box orders or donate more pantry items later. in the afternoon. It is one of the few days of the week when Lasnier does not manage the store alone. “[The scene] is like an international station, âsays Lasnier. âWhen the salespeople are here, they’re not just there with the customers. They are here to interact and help each other. This is their domain. It is my happiness.
How you can help
Ruby’s accepts donations for immigrant and refugee families. For more information on the latest drive, visit rubysmarketdenver.com or follow the market on Facebook and Instagram.