At DJ’s Mini Mart, Patricia Alex sells whole fish, cassava, yams, plantain flour, large bags of rice, spring rolls, butter coconut biscuits, and hundreds of other items selected to tickle the taste buds of her Micronesian-American neighbors.
Though sometimes overlooked, Maquoketa’s Micronesian community is several hundred strong. For these customers, Alex’s store is just across town instead of an hour or more down the highway.
With staples like milk, eggs and bread, Alex is also catering to nearby residents who are seniors or lack transportation further afield. Downtown business owners can find a quick snack at DJ’s Mini Mart, located on the corner of Main and Pleasant streets.
“They ask for it, I bring it,” Alex said.
The story is named for Alex’s 10-year-old son. “It’s a mini-mart, at least to start,” she said.
Alex said she thought about the idea for several years before opening the mini-mart at the beginning of November, when she had the opportunity and resources to do so.
The store’s inventory is still sparse, but ask Alex to show you around, and you’ll find the “fresh, local food” that Alex loves to eat, like yam and taro.
To bring Micronesian groceries to Maquoketa, Alex travels to the Quad Cities, Cedar Rapids, Iowa City and even Chicago. Her store is Maquoketa’s first “Oriental-style store,” Alex said.
Her customers aren’t just Micronesians or Maquoketans, either. In her first week and a half, Alex served customers looking for flavors that reminded them of the Philippines, Samoa, New Zealand and the Marshall Islands.
In a large chest freezer, Alex stocks fish, some whole, including tuna, mackerel, tilapia, pike, blue runner and more.
“My people are so excited,” Alex said. “They’re so happy that they don’t have to travel over an hour for fish or rice.”
By bringing the tastes of home here, it helps her out customers. And they, in turn, help Alex build her new business.
“So far, so good,” she said.