On each silver rack, the jellies and jams stain the light streaming through each jar, a mosaic of pinks and reds and mauves. But what interests Tom Deacon the most are the canned goods on the right-most wall, layers of canned tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers.
At first glance, they could be something found at any other grocery store within a mile, from Lucky’s to Whole Foods to Safeway. But when he palms the can and scans each label, it becomes something more than just a can of dried tomatoes with a list of ingredients he doesn’t recognize. He imagines the way other people have held these cans, exactly the way he is now. Except that they’re all the way across the world.
“I love to look at the items and see where they’re from,” Deacon said. When he met a man named Esmail at a local coffee shop owned by an Iranian woman, he never expected to be introduced to the local center for those seeking Middle Eastern goods and ingredients. The sheer diversity of objects stunned him: British chocolate gleaming in gold foil, candy like drops of amber, boxes of Turkish Delight.
“You can’t find this in any other store,” Deacon said, sweeping his hand over the landscape of the store, dotted with ripe pomegranates and dangling discount signs. He rattles off a list of countries whose foods are represented: Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan. Israel, China.
“Hong Kong,” Esmail said, calling from the front of the store.
Deacon smiles. “Vietnam,” he added.
This is the best Persian store in all of Cupertino.
The two, having met in a coffee shop, now bond over their mutual enthusiasm for chicken kabobs. And Turkish Delight, of which Deacon realized he’s become quite fond.
“This is the best Persian store in all of Cupertino,” Esmail said. He chats freely with employees and customers alike, and some gaze at him furtively, as if wondering if he is an employee himself. With this level of familiarity, he might as well be. Esmail feels lucky; in Cupertino, it can be difficult to belong.
“People are spread out,” Deacon said, explaining the fragmented state of community in Cupertino. To him, people appear to gather in small cultural or ethnic groups, eliminating the need for unity on a larger scale.
“People have ‘their places,’ like local areas, coffee shops and places like here,” he said. Though he knows of the restoration of Vallco and the building of a downtown, he doesn’t believe this will change much.
“It’s progress, but it’s not natural. It’s a huge undertaking to reinvent the culture of this city,” Deacon said. After living here for nearly 20 years, he’s developed his own habits, his own spaces and rituals. It’s difficult to imagine overnight change once the downtown opens.
And no matter what, he believes that the places that will survive will be the places like this: an established cultural center, a meeting point, a place where Esmail can compliment the fresh saffron in his food while he and Deacon chat next to gleaming racks of rose jam.
“It’s convergence,” Deacon said, simply. He continues to circle around the store, periodically picking up a slightly dusty can. He always reads the back. After a full round, he leaves the store with Esmail, but not before he recommends the chicken to a couple entering the doors.