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Best of the City: Yumbrosia brings a world of flavour to Oak Bay

Owner Ihsan Askar provides quality international products to Victoria and beyond
Yumbrosia Fine Foods owner Ihsan Askar stands next to his deli, which offers fresh olives, paninis, cold cuts and soup. Askar was born in Turkey and worked as a food quality inspector in Austria before deciding to run a business in Canada. (Evert Lindquist/News Staff)

For Ihsan Askar, a 56-year-old chemist and cook from Pamukkale, Turkey, running Yumbrosia Fine Foods in Oak Bay for the last 10 years has been a dream come true.

Moving to Austria at 25 to study at the University of Innsbruck, Askar relocated west to Bregrenz after deciding not to finish his PhD and experienced quality food and coffee at the border of Austria, Germany and Switzerland while working as a food quality inspector.

“After the age of 40, it wasn’t easy to work with someone else,” he said, seated at one of his outdoor cafe tables. “Your mind moves to make your own decision and work. That’s why my main target was to open or take over a store and design it how I liked.”

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Askar lived in Europe for over 20 years before coming to visit his brother in Toronto. Unable to bear the extreme climates of eastern Canada, he looked to the west coast and ended up choosing Victoria over Kelowna.

Running a service business, he decided, would be the only way for him to get by, with no manufacturing or health inspection opportunities readily available. Askar’s aspiration was to take over a small business, a difficult process in Europe that required up to five years of school.

“When I came to Canada, I saw that difference: just buy a business, open the door the next day and start running it.”

He bought his first store at Oak Bay Village in 2011 from a Portuguese owner who had grown ill and decided to sell all seven of his stores in Victoria. Originally naming his business Ambrosia Fine Foods and Deli, Askar enjoyed working along The Avenue for eight years but struggled with the building’s limited space and a lack of available customer parking.

He was quick to buy his current store at Eastdowne Road in September 2018 from a failing Italian ice cream business, running both his stores for five months to gradually transfer his clientele. Losing minimal business as a result, Askar estimates his business grew 85 per cent following the move.

“We are really responsible for the neighbourhood because that building as a commercial unit is 110 years old,” he said. “We made a big renovation and lots of changes and my main targets, as a chemist and health inspector, have been hygiene and organization.”

Yumbrosia offers a variety of unique ethnic and imported products, along with fresh local produce from Galey Farms, Gobind Farms and Dan’s Farm and Country Market, and daily soup, paninis and assorted dinner items and cooking ingredients.

About 75 per cent of the store’s products are Mediterranean and European imports, including its cheeses, cold cuts and olives. Sources range from countries like Spain, Italy and Greece to Turkey and Middle Eastern nations like Lebanon, Iran and Syria.

Askar said it is the wide product range that is unique to Oak Bay, providing a selection in one store that customers would otherwise only be able to find by going to five or six different locations.

Yumbrosia doesn’t only serve Oak Bay or Greater Victoria, with regular monthly customers coming from Duncan, Nanaimo and Campbell River.

“Of course, I would be happy if we had more customers, and we are able to add some other products that they request.”

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Within the next few years, Askar will begin selling olives, dried figs and olive oil imported from his very own three-acre olive farm in his Turkish hometown.

He enjoys working in a residential area and credited the growing nutritional needs of families for helping to keep his business alive.

“If they want to change their diet and eat healthy and great food, they’ll come to see us and our products,” he said. “Health, hygiene, product and quality are very, very important for us.”

Askar plans to run the store for another 10 years, hoping to train one of his three current employees to operate the business afterward.

“I will be more than happy for whoever can take over the business after me and can run the same service or an even better service.”

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Yumbrosia Fine Foods owner Ihsan Askar takes a break while stocking fresh local produce outside his store. Proper hygiene, good product quality and wide product variety are fundamental to Askar’s business, which he has run in Oak Bay for 10 years. (Evert Lindquist/News Staff)