Maria and Holland International Market
With the opening of its doors, Holland International Market, Inc. started a new era of Dutch culture and specialty goods in Bellflower, California.
The former local Dutch store, Holland American International Specialities closed for good in June 2014. It was the premier distributor of fine European and domestic specialty gourmet foods. The store was founded by a Dutch-born owner as a small market. It was one of the first importers and distributors of Dutch gourmet products in California and gained a reputation for its quality service in the specialty gourmet foods industry. With a specialized bakery, it evolved into a full-service retailer, importer, wholesaler, and distributor over time.
The Dutch grocery store, which served its once-bustling cluster of Dutch immigrants, closed its doors after 71 years. It was a staple of the neighborhood. A memorable wooden figurine of a man eating a herring stood just inside the store’s front door. Many of its long-time patrons were shocked to hear L.A.’s last remaining Dutch market closed its business. They were heartbroken because the store was where they did their daily Dutch grocery shopping for years.
Five months later, there was a new reason to celebrate. Bellflower’s famous Dutch Store had come back to life and it was better than ever. A new store emerged with a new business name and location. In October 2014, Maria Cervantes, who worked at the old Dutch store, was cutting the ribbons to open her own store.
While working at the old Dutch store, Maria came to love everything about her work. It didn’t take long before she fell in love with the “Taste of Dutch”—loving her Indo Dutch customers even to the point of understanding their language and speaking some popular words like “Dank je wel” or “Lekker”! The seventeen years of training at the old Dutch store, prepared her with the knowledge needed to run her own store.
She wouldn’t have done it any other way. Maria knew in her heart that she needed to bring the Dutch store back to Bellflower. With the backing and valuable support of her major Dutch Indo product supplier, she was extended credit to allow her to fill the shelves of her store.
And the rest is history! Previously the old store served about 1,000 customers. With pride, the store on Belmont now serves about 5,000 customers across the U.S. with sales generated between the store location, telephone orders, and HIM’s website.
With determination, encouragement, passion, and strong faith, Maria and her business are celebrating eight years of serving the Dutch and Indo Dutch community this November. She helps and supports the Consulate of Netherlands, the United Netherlands Organization (UNO), the Dutch School, the SoCal Indo, The Netherlands America Foundation (NAF), numerous other private organizations, and countless private individuals who would like to promote their books, magazines, other products or business at the Holland store. This is what makes this Holland International Market distinct from other stores. Maria’s amazing customer service, kindness, caring personality, and best of all her welcoming smile are what bring customers back again and again.
And…. The Indo Project also appreciates Maria and HIM’s continual support throughout these years. Maria has hosted The Indo Project outreach on Saturdays for many years. TIP pitches their tent and draws interest from HIM clientele. TIP followers come to meet TIP members with coffee, tea, and Dutch cookies. The bottom line: people are informed, donate or purchase TIP merchandise which supports The Indo Project in its mission and vision.
The Indo Project Interview
TIP: When did you start working for a Dutch Store?
Maria: I first started working for a Dutch Store, the old Holland American International Specialties, Inc. down on Artesia Boulevard in 1997. It was owned and operated by a Chinese-American man (he bought the business from the original Dutch owner who ran the business since it first opened in 1943). The business closed down on June 30, 2014, when the older Chinese owner (father of the original Chinese owner who took over) passed away.
I learned the ins and outs of running a Dutch store from my many years of experience as a retail staff when I first got hired, to Assistant Manager, and eventually promoted to Store Manager. It was our Dutch Store Manager at that time who taught me everything there was to learn about the Dutch retail food business (from purchasing the products, to working on the front register, packing/repacking products, and supervising the staff). Despite my minimal experience working in a retail store business (only worked at Vons for a few years), I was able to gain the knowledge needed to run my own Dutch store. I knew I had the necessary tools (knowledge, personality, and passion) to open this wonderful Holland International Market.
TIP: What are you most proud of when it comes to HIM?
I am proud to be able to serve the Indo Dutch community as I learned and loved their culture, traditions, and their products. Although I look and speak Mexican, my customers accept me as their own Dutch Indo people.
TIP: When did HIM originally open? How many people did it serve?
We had the ribbon cutting and blessing of our new store on October 28, 2014, with the presence of the Mayor of the City of Bellflower, some city officials, and valued customers who graced this important opening day. Officially, the retail store business, Holland International Market, was opened to the public on November 1, 2014. I was so proud of running my own Holland store which I never ever imagined. Initially, we had about 1,000 valued customers (from the original Dutch store) who supported my business.
TIP: Why did you decide to purchase the store?
When the original store closed down in June 2014, many of the older customers were heartbroken because it became their “go-to marketplace” for many years. It was where they bought their favorite specialty gourmet foods. It became a life passion to share the store’s heritage with their children and grandchildren.
Also, I love what I do at the Dutch store as it becomes my life, my passion to work and serve the Dutch and Dutch Indo community. I could have decided to work for another store but the urge to start my own Holland store was so strong. I knew in my heart that I wanted to reopen the store for my long-time customers to give them access to their daily food needs for home as well as their traditional holiday goods. I am glad that I did cause I am overflowing with pride and joy seeing everyone’s face lit up when they come to visit and do their shopping here.
TIP: What surprises you the most about HIM and its customers?
When I reopened the store, so many customers came to thank me personally for bringing the Holland store back into business. Our customers, mostly Dutch and Indos, are people with good hearts. They show love, care, and respect for me and for who I am (they get surprised upon knowing that the owner is not of Dutch or Indo descent). Not only the customers, even the Consulate of Netherlands staff, the Dutch School, the various Dutch (United Netherlands Organization in particular), and Indo Dutch organizations (Indo SoCal) are always there to help and support our business. We get invited to various Dutch-Indo events such as the Holland Festival, King’s Day among others to set up our food booth to offer to the patrons our popular products. Somehow, with this exposure, we meet new people and bring new customers to our store.
I am so glad that I decided to reopen this store because I was able to create a space for a loving and caring community—where the Dutch and Indo Dutch can come together with their children, grandchildren to find the real flavors back home in Holland and Indonesia.
TIP: Have you ever been to the Netherlands? If so, what was your favorite part?
Yes, I have visited the Netherlands three times in 2016, 2018, and 2020 through the invitation of Vantol, one of the major importer-exporters in the Netherlands, who covered our trip expenses.
I attended an international exhibition where various manufacturers/suppliers from across the world came together to showcase Vantol’s various products. I was so overwhelmed to meet other attendees from different countries and participate as a U.S. representative. This life-changing experience was something I never expected to happen in my life—more so being able to travel to Europe is beyond my imagination.
TIP: Have you ever been to Indonesia?
No, but I hope that I can visit one day.
TIP: What is the one thing you would like the Indo community to know about you?
I would like for the Indo community from far-flung cities to get to know more about our store here on Belmont Street in Bellflower, CA, so we can come up with events where Indos can come together to celebrate and eat their favorite traditional foods right here in our own store. I would like to be able to build a good relationship with them—helping and supporting one another in ways we can.
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Have you visited the Holland International Market in Bellflower, California? If so, what are your favorite items from the store?