Sudanese market opens in Austin

A new market in southeast Austin will provide more than just food, it will provide many people in the community a look back home.

The Sudanese Community International Market opened in the former Corner Market location Saturday at 807 Ninth St. SE. Along with selling a variety of grocery products previously unavailable in Austin, the market will also serve as a meeting place for many Sudanese in Austin.

Co-owners Gathak Reath and Wakow Bol plan to turn a back room of the market into a community room with a satellite television for people to watch programs in their native language.

“It’s very good for us to see what’s going on back there,” said Simon Bol, who leads a Sudanese worship service at St. Olaf Lutheran Church. Wakow and Simon are both from the Nuer tribe of Southern Sudan.

Sudan has been a nation stricken with war for decades, and Ron Barnett, senior pastor at St. Olaf, said many of the approximately 100 Sudanese with ties to St. Olaf have family still living in Sudan. While he said the tension in the country has calmed down some, he said Sudanese leaders plan to vote in 2011 on whether or not to divide the country into two nations.

The market opened Saturday afternoon with a prayer service attended by more than 30 people and multiple pastors. When speaking to the group, Barnett said he remembers going to the old Corner Market as a boy growing up in Austin. His best friend lived a few blocks from the store.

“It’s so good to see this building being used in such a powerful way to minister to this group, and hopefully for all the community,” Barnett said. He also said the store will be a source of pride in the community.

Barnett pointed out a rack of candy bars that included Snickers and Twix bars, and he pointed out a box in the cooler from Taiwan. “We truly are a global world,” he said.

The market will serve a number of food items that people have had to travel to cities like Rochester to find.

“We have a lot of people over here, Sudanese people, and we don’t have the stuff that we need,” Wakow said.

“We’re going to bring some food for our people,” he added.

The market will carry a variety of juices and meats. It will also sell items like pure butter ghee, green meadow cheese, seedless tamarind and different kinds of oil.

One product, yellow corn flour, is used in an important dish commonly served for special occasions.

Currently, many people travel to Rochester or other cities to purchase food items, but Reath said that can be difficult during the winter.

Others were thankful to have such a store in Austin.

“To have a market place here in Austin is a blessing,” Simon said.

Though the market opened Saturday, it’s far from finished. Many food items are scheduled to be delivered this week.

This is the first time either Wakow or Gathak have owned a grocery store. Currently, both men work at Quality Pork Processors, and they plan to keep their jobs there as they open the market. The two will take turns operating the the market, and Wakow said a number of friends will help run the market.

Tentatively, the market will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week, with different hours on the weekend.