The Happy Mango is Barrie’s most popular West Indian cuisine store, and after 13 years, continues to serve the community its unique dishes and products.
The 237 Mapleview Dr. E. store is usually packed during the lunch hour as local workers grab a bite to eat at the hot table before punching back in on the clock. Owner Daren Rahim loves the look of those who try his food for the first time and then continue to come back.
“It’s a great place to eat with food that may not have tried,” said Rahim. “We’ll have people stop in maybe because of word of mouth or even just passing by and they might grab the jerk chicken quick before heading off; its great when we see them coming back after one try.”
Rahim says that a very popular dish that is served is the roti, which is a flatbread. Or more popular in North America is the roti wrap which is easier for those on the go. The wrap version will usually contain chicken, goat, beef and/or shrimp. Vegetables such as potato, and spinach as well as many condiments, pepper sauce (hot sauce) and mango chutney being the most popular are also included.
Rahim was born in Trinidad but moved to Canada at the early age of six months. Living in Toronto for many years, it wasn’t until 2002 that the now 45-year-old and his wife Anna moved to Barrie to start a new life with their two sons. Rahim’s long-time passion of wanting to open his own establishment selling food that he grew up on began to come together.
“I was a production supervisor at Magna before opening this and I could never get the spices I wanted here in Barrie,” said Rahim. “I figured while I was young I would give it a shot and if it didn’t work I could always go back to my other job. Thank God though that we’re here 13 years later and doing well.”
While there is a section of the shop that is dedicated to serving hot food to go, the Happy Mango is also a grocery store full of West Indian foods, spices and drinks. Many of the regulars who shop there are folks who love to cook the popular dishes at home but can’t find what they need at the larger grocery chains. In the back of the store is a butcher shop full of free-range chicken, beef that is grass and hay fed and is all Triple A beef from two suppliers that Rahim has used from day one, showing the loyalty and family-type atmosphere that comes with the establishment.
“I have used the same two meat guys since opening because through everything we went through to get where we are, they were a part of the process and the meat is just top quality,” said Rahim. “We really believe we’re a great option for lunch and dinner as far as a healthier choice than fast food and also we’re a happy family in here who are always glad to see new faces.”
The Happy Mango wasn’t always doing well however, and there were some very troubling times for the Rahim family. Opening a store in Barrie 13 years ago that specialized in ethnic food was a risk and for a while the financial burden was nearly too much to bear. Rahim recalls a time so dark that he couldn’t provide shoes for his son for school.
“It was so hard for those first few years to where I had to sell the house and we were near bankrupt,” said Rahim. “I remember not being able to buy shoes for my son for school which was not only tough as a parent but very humbling as a man. Those times definitely made us stronger and we clearly enjoy this more now that we got through it all together.”
While in their darkest hours, whether it was the financial struggle, the loss of a third child at birth or the daily struggles a couple go through when trying to run a business together, Rahim knows his faith and his community helped get him and his family through; which is another reason the family love the city they call home.
“My church got me and my family through this and that’s something we strongly believe in,” said Rahim. “There are struggles all over, all the time and for some they just get through it, but me and my wife are long time Christians and we know that this all possible because of our church and God. Our church family rallied around us whenever we needed them, and being here in Barrie was a great struggle at first but clearly was the path we were supposed to be on.”