BILLINGS - A drive down Grand Avenue and a turn into Grand Plaza will take you to Abarrote Asuncion.
“The name of the store, it’s Abarrote, abarrote means like a grocery store, and Asuncion, it’s the town I came from, that’s my hometown, and that’s why I call it Abarrote Asuncion, so I don’t forget where I came from,” explained Cris Antonio, who owns the store with his wife Josefina.
Anyone with a Hispanic upbringing will feel an instant connection when they see some of the items sitting on store shelves.
“They’re able to make what they want to make. Like sometimes they’re looking for ingredients to make tamales, pozoles, like all of the Mexican food. And I’m so happy because people come here and they’re looking for it,” said Josefina.
Getting those hard-to-find goods to Billings is no simple task.
Cris travels to Idaho Falls every two weeks to pick up items shipped in for his store.
“That’s a part of the job you know, I have to go. I decided to open the store, so I have to do what it takes to keep it running,” Cris said.
The Antonios opened their store right before the pandemic hit.
A look at Montana’s Census numbers shows they might be at the right place, at the right time.
From 2010 to 2020, the Hispanic population grew from 28,565 to 45,199, making it the state’s second fastest-growing ethnic group.
Cris made his journey to the united states more than 30 years ago, working as a farmhand.
“First job I had in Dillon, Montana. And that day, I was probably making $600 a month, you know, it’s a lot of money for me at that time,” he said.
That’s why he’s able to empathize with his customers.
“I see a lot of guys too, coming from Mexico, and some of them, they don’t speak any English, and that’s why I opened the store, trying to help them out too,” Cris said.
With a crisis underway at the U.S./Mexico border, Cris can attest that making a living in the United States isn’t easy.
“When you’re in your country, you think, I gotta go to the United States and just make a lot of money. But it’s not that way. You gotta work hard too and that way, if you want to do something, you got a dream, you gotta just keep trying,” he said.
The Antonios are the first in their family to own a store.
With no prior business experience, they followed their hearts and their dreams, and now, they’re paving a path for their three daughters.
“That’s our goal too, see our kids growing up and have a better life than we had before,” Josefina said.
Josefina has been working since she was 12 years old and only made it through the 6th grade.
Cris made it through the 3rd grade.
They’re celebrating the accomplishments of their oldest daughter, who is a freshman at MSU-Billings, making her a first-generation high school graduate and college student.
“That’s what I told them, you gotta study, that way you’re not going to be like your dad. I want best for them,” Cris said.
A trait their daughters will certainly want from their mom and dad is their work ethic.
The Antonio family has big plans on the horizon as they get the store ready for its next steps.
“I’ll just say we have too many things in our mind and I hope in the future we will reach that dream,” Josefina said.
Abarrote Asuncion is open seven days a week, Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
You can follow them on Facebook for updates on new product arrival.