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India Mart fulfills ‘American dream’ for owners

New Indian, Fijian, and Southeast Asian store opens on Telegraph Road

India Mart owner TJ Singh, right, and his wife Jasmine Pannu stand in an aisle lined with tea and chutney Jan. 29. The family-operated Southeast Asian grocery store opened Jan. 18 on Telegraph Road. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ava Ronning News Intern

India Mart, a family-owned grocery store that opened in January on Telegraph Road, is making Indian cuisine accessible to experienced cooks and beginners alike. 

TJ Singh owns the store with his wife, Jasmine Pannu. Approximately 70% of India Mart’s inventory is Northern Indian goods inspired by what Singh grew up with, but the store also includes Southeast Asian and Fijian foods.  

India Mart carries grocery items, cookware, beauty products and even some Indian wedding essentials. 

The store is clean, colorful and well-organized. With about 4,500 products, shoppers can purchase anything from masala-flavored instant noodles and grab-and-go snack mixes to a tawa pan, for frying flatbread or roti. Singh’s favorite products at the moment are lychee, frozen kathi rolls and mango lassi.  

Chutney products line a shelf. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)

Singh said the store has already attracted a more diverse crowd than anticipated. Oftentimes, people will come in just to look around but “end up finding so many things,” Pannu said. “And that’s it: We know we’re serving a community that was not previously being served.” 

India Mart opened Jan. 18 during the height of a winter storm. Despite her car slipping on their driveway, she managed to make the trip to the store. Pannu thought nobody would come in, but  75 people showed up throughout the day, regardless of the weather. She said she was happy to find customers were patient and flexible. 

“I can’t tell you the number of people that we had, especially the weekend that we opened, that were rooting for us, cheering us on and praying for us,” Pannu said. 

Bringing Northern India to Northwest Washington 

A wide array of Indian sweets fill a case near the checkout stands. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)

For Singh, this family-owned business honors his upbringing and the new community he’s finding in Bellingham. His goal is to carry foods that he grew up with and goods the community wants, and to provide not only customer service, but hospitality.

He said he took almost 50 trips from Kent, where they previously lived, to ensure the right location, and decided Bellingham was ideal because a lot of people don’t have access to a store like India Mart. With the influx of people moving to Bellingham, it also felt like the right time to open. 

Singh lived in India for 17 years, near New Dehli in a city called Chandigarh, the capital of both Punjab and Haryana. When Singh moved here, his first job was at his uncle’s grocery store in Kent, where Singh said he learned about what people want and need.  

Okra fills a bin in India Mart’s produce section. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)

Now at India Mart, he helps customers learn more about the products, how to use them, offers samples, and helps people load their cars with heavy items. Pannu added that her husband’s background in tech helps them keep track of what’s selling, what’s not, and what they need to replenish.

“His parents are here from India helping us,” Pannu said. “Mine are coming down from Seattle bringing us vegetables, helping us on the floor here to do whatever that they can to fulfill ‘that dream he left India with at 17.’”  

Pannu said Singh’s customer service goes above and beyond, helping people find exactly what they’re looking for, whether they currently carry it or not. 

India Mart opened Jan. 18 at 193 Telegraph Road. (Finn Wendt/Cascadia Daily News)

Pannu recalls an instance when someone asked if they carry dosa batter (made from dal and rice, and used for a dish similar to a crepe). It wasn’t on their original inventory list, but their entire family helped them procure the batter. As soon as it was stocked, the batter flew off the shelves, and continues to be one of their best sellers.  

India Mart already has more than 15 five-star reviews on Google, with customers citing its cleanliness, wide selection, inviting ambiance and superior customer service. Singh continues to take suggestions, asking the community what they want to see on the shelves and other ways they can improve. 

For Singh, starting a family business that pays homage to his culture and upbringing is the “American dream.”  

“Sometimes even when you work at a corporate world, it’s not fulfilling after a few years,” Singh said. “So finding that fulfillment is the key aspect.” 

India Mart is located at 193 Telegraph Road. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays. Customers can reach India Mart at (360) 208-0800 or @indiamartgrocers on Instagram. 

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