International food market opens in Acorn Alley

Laura Lofgren

The Main Street Snack Shoppe has moved out, and an international food store has taken its place in downtown Kent.

Four entrepreneurship majors are opening Home Markets, a grocery store with an international focus, at 11 a.m. today in Acorn Alley.

Seniors Crystal King and Genia Kollie, junior Abdullah Alkhaddah and sophomore Nick Testa started their project at the beginning of the semester to help international students assimilate to Kent State’s culture.

“One of the reasons why we selected international students is because these students are (more than) 7,000 miles away from home,” King said. “They suffer from depression, anxiety, cultural barriers. Our goal at Home Markets is to close that gap between our country and their country.”

Home Markets offers items from the Middle East, China and India like seasonings and rice. The store hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. this semester, and it is soft opening, which is a trial run before the grand opening next semester.

“A lot of students drive over an hour away to get some of the products,” Kollie said. “We just want to bring it closer to them in downtown Kent.”

Abaadi Ali, a senior computer science major, said he is excited for the market to open.

“I’m from Saudi Arabia; therefore, I usually go to Akron to get Saudi food,” Ali said. “It was too difficult to go over there whenever I want something. What am I expecting from the store is good quality of Middle Eastern food.”

The group of entrepreneurs wants to expand their produce selection in the first few weeks and continue into next semester. They plan to provide meat products and refrigerated items for students as well.

“It’ll be like a mini-convenience store,” King said. “One of our main targets is to be able to allow them to adapt to the Kent culture without abandoning their own home culture.”

The Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation, the program Home Markets is rooted in, allows students in the major to collaborate with each other along with experienced faculty and staff. They discuss and start potential student-run business ventures that will benefit Kent and the university.

“It’s pretty much a real world experience but with the university as kind of like an umbrella,” Testa said.

Along with the approval of the school, the young co-founders had to obtain a vendor’s license to start their limited liability company. With this type of business, the owners, including the school and students, have limited legal responsibility if anything were to happen to the business.

Kollie said funding for Home Markets comes from a start-up university fund and a few investors.

“We are looking for outside investors to continue to fund us,” she said.

The group wants to offer delivery services and allow students and the Kent community to use FlashCards and Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, King said.

Next season, Home Markets also plans to offer some products at the Haymaker Farmer’s Market.

“If our business does well, we do plan on franchising it to other universities as well,” Kollie said.

Currently, the four entrepreneurs are the only employees, but they want to eventually hire international students in a work-study type of program.

“They’ll develop some on-hand experience in retail and management,” Kollie said.

The entrepreneurs would like to build an advisory board of international students to benefit Home Markets on two levels. The board would help international students build better communication skills and gain work experience. The students will also act as a council to monitor what products to bring in and what products to take off the shelves.

With more than 1,000 students from more than 100 countries attending Kent State, Home Markets’ founders feel there is an increasing gap between cultures at the university.

They intend to draw in not only international students, but also intrigued Americans.

“One of the biggest things with the store is we have diversity on campus, but we want our store to bring inclusion to the campus,” Kollie said. “We want to make sure everyone’s active.”

Contact Laura Lofgren at [email protected].