New flavors come to downtown Tama

Last November, Matthew Zou and Deapea Gbor opened up Dee & David African Grocery Store on 3rd Street in Tama. The store offers a wide variety of specialty productions geared towards international cuisine. Darvin Graham/News Chronicle

One of the most diverse communities in Tama County recently welcomed a new specialty business to their downtown.

Matthew Zou and his wife Deapea Gbor opened Dee & David African Grocery Store in late 2020 where they offer a wide variety of international grocery items with an emphasis on African grocery items.

The store is located at 207 W 3rd St. in Tama between the Willett and Rathjen law office and the former Tama State Bank building now occupied by Radio Z.

The Brady family sold the property to Gregory Hansen in 2014 and it has largely sat vacant up to when the grocery store opened in November.

The store specializes in international food products beyond those needed for African cuisine, including Mexican, Thai and Indian food products.

Items ranging from specialty Thai ramen noodles and paratha Indian flatbread to Japanese sweet potatoes and cassava root vegetables are a fraction of the items for sale within the 2,100 square foot grocery store.

The store also stocks a selection of toiletries and everyday home staples and offers customers international money transfer services.

The Zou family moved to Tama from Cedar Rapids four years ago and have come to enjoy the community since locating here.

Gbor said their family is very spiritual and looks to approach their relationship with the Tama-Toledo community with Christian love.

“This store and this business is our way of saying ‘we love you’ to the area,” Gbor said. “People need food more than anything. We want to be a help to the community, to meet people’s needs and be a friendly place to do business.”

The Zou family likened their time and endeavors in Tama to the slow and gradual process of starting a fire.

In 2017 they moved to Tama and were able to purchase a house on Harmon Street. By 2020, they grew their investment in Tama to also include a business in the downtown area.

Apart from being entrepreneurs and small business owners, Zou and Gbor are parents to their three children and work full time apart from the grocery store.

Zou works at Jeld-wen manufacturing and Gbor has been working at Sunny Hill Care Center in Tama for the past four years.

The couple said one of the primary motivators in opening an African grocery store was the difficulty they’ve experienced in locating African food and specialty products in rural areas like Tama. Zou says for some items they would have to travel from and hour up to five hours away.

The demand for African products has increased in the area over recent years. Nearly 40 percent of the workforce at Tama County’s largest employer, Iowa Premium, are employees that are first or second generation Congolese. With Iowa Premium set to double the size of their operation by 2022, the demand for African grocery products could grow even further.

The grocery store building in Tama, which most recently housed Brady & Associates Insurance and Back Door Dinners, was in need of repair when Zou purchased it last year. Prior to opening, Zou worked on his own to refinish the floors, paint the interior and update the bathroom.

Store shelving and coolers were sourced from the Shopko department store in Toledo that closed in 2019.

In August of 2020, just one month after the family took ownership of the building, the derecho storm permanently damaged the building’s air conditioning unit that sat on the roof.

In the near future Zou hopes to find a way to repair the air conditioning and add some exterior signage to the building to help raise the store’s profile on 3rd Street.

The building’s interior is split into several small interconnected rooms which, for the time being, are used as additional retail floor space to sell large quantity products like beverages, paper products and cleaning supplies as well as a small clothing section.

Zou hopes to have the ability to add additional coolers and freezers to make room for a wider selection of meat products.

Gbor has her sights set on future expansion to offer prepared foods along with the grocery items at the store. She said one of her passions is cooking and that she would love the opportunity to showcase and share some of her favorite dishes with the community.

Dee & David African Grocery Store is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. on 3rd Street in Tama.