FREDERICTON – Junifer Torralba had worked his way up the corporate ladder in the Philippines for around two decades and wanted more from life.
His search for meaning led him to Fredericton, where he now runs a business to serve the city’s Filipino community.
Torralba, his wife Myra Lynn and four of their Filipino friends started Ang Kapitbahay – or The Neighbour in English – in December. The online store sells packaged items like frozen milkfish, calamansi extract and others that would normally be found in local grocery stores in the Philippines.
“Selling Filipino goods to Filipinos here is quite a fulfilling exercise because at least you bring to people a taste of their own home,” Junifer said.
Customers can make an order through the online store and get it delivered the same night or the next day, often by Junifer himself. The items come from a supplier in Toronto, who buys the products from the Philippines.
The idea for the business came when, after moving to Fredericton just last May, the Torralbas couldn’t find Filipino goods in Fredericton. Instead, they’d have to wait for a vendor from Saint John to make weekly deliveries.
While there are other vendors of Filipino goods in New Brunswick, Ang Kapitbahay wants to make purchases easier, and shorten the delivery time. It aims to serve the approximately 1,200 Filipinos in the province, particularly the Fredericton region.
The six founders began building the platform after Junifer started the Business Immigrant Mentorship Program (BIMP), a partnership between the New Brunswick government and the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce. Ang Kapitbahay is currently in its “exploratory discovery phase,” Junifer said.
With the business being new, a significant profit is still months away, he said. But so far, “Filipinos are at least quite happy that they have a place to order for Filipino goods,” he said.
The Search For Meaning
Junifer had worked as a certified public accountant for two global accounting firms for seven years before moving to Shell for 13 years. There, he helped the multinational oil firm set up their shared services centre in Manila, and supported teams in Poland and Malaysia. Myra Lynn was formerly an operations manager at global testing company SGS, through which she was stationed in Nigeria for some time.
The couple wanted a break and Canada was one of the top options because Junifer had visited often through his work for Shell. They came to Fredericton for a “change of environment,” he said.
“My work would require me to travel a lot, long hours in the office, the same with my wife. So we kind of looked – is there something more to life in general? We’ve been married for 12 years now and we decided, why not take some time off and maybe start a family somewhere,” he said.
The search for meaning led them to begin volunteering for Meals on Wheels almost immediately after they arrived in Fredericton. They do it every week.
“The volunteer work is for our souls, in a way. It’s an enriching experience for us because you could see that you live a busy life. All of our time was pretty much accounted with a dollar value. And we haven’t done any volunteer work, this is the first time,” he said.
And although they decided to take some time off from work, they couldn’t stay idle. Junifer had joined the BIMP to keep himself busy and understand the business landscape in New Brunswick.
Junifer said although Ang Kapitbahay might not be his passion project, it helped him connect with the Filipino community.
“More than that, it also helped me push to know more about how to do business here, and that drives me to come up with maybe bigger plans. What can I do based on my experience, my global perspective?” he said. “What are other things I can do for this community and for my new home, in general?”
Junifer’s also part of Diversis’ Talent Plus pilot project, which supports the economic integration of immigrants in New Brunswick through employment or entrepreneurship. Junifer is working with mentor Lisa Hrabluk, the founder of Wicked Ideas media company, to hash out his ideas for more meaningful work.
The search continues for the Torralbas.
“It’s a journey,” Junifer said.