Rupa Vyas, Founder of Jay Store, Passes Away

Rupa (left) with Kanak Vyas, long-time employee of Jay Store, and Madri (Rupa’s sister) at Jay Store.

Houston: Rupa Vyas, the founder of Jay Store, Houston’s first Indian grocery store, died on January 16, 2021 after developing Covid-19 infection. She was 82 years old. Born in Bhavnagar, India, and the eldest daughter of the Balakrishna Trivedi and Shanta Trivedi. After completing her studies in India, she and her husband, Mahesh Vyas, and their two young children- Jatin and Sanjay moved to Houston in 1969 from Montreal Canada as Mahesh landed his first job in geophysics in a local company.

Back then, there were only 30-40 Indian families in Houston and easy method to stay connected with other Indian communities. Soon, their desire to have Indian food as one meaningful way to connect back to their culture led mom to get groceries shipped from Chicago to their house. One-by-one other families asked if they could place an order with her. Soon, she kept a small inventory in her garage for the other families.

The Indian community grew and as a pioneer she saw the importance of starting a grocery store to serve her community. So, a few years later, Jay Store was born. Quickly, word spread that if you want to get hard-to-find Indian spices, warm samosas, fresh Indian vegetables or hot jelibi– go to Jay Store. Families from Dallas/Fort Worth, Oklahoma, Louisiana travelled all day to Houston just to come to Jay Store.

But Jay Store was not just a grocery store. It was a place to be reminded of home. For so many, it was 2500 square feet of India. The aroma, the people, the colors… this was a slice of home. She was a leading businesswoman in the Indian grocery industry typically run by men. She knew that the only way to move forward was to work harder and persevere. She spent time thinking where to re-locate her store as the current footprint on Westheimer no longer met her customers’ needs. She chose the Hwy 59 and Hillcroft area. Many people questioned her decision. There was nothing there. No other Indian stores. Why go there? Despite these concerns, she persevered. She moved Jay Store to the Hillcroft/Hwy 59 area in 1983. Soon, other stores joined her and then more stores and then more stores.

Today, this area is called the Mahatma Gandhi District. It is a place where the Indian community can celebrate its culture and come together to connect. The Gandhi district is the cultural hub for so many Indians locally, regionally, and nationally. The former Mayor of Houston, Annise Parker, designated January 16, 2010 as “Mahatma Gandhi District Day”. It is poetic that she died on the 11th anniversary of this great day.

She eventually sold the store and retired. But these idle hands could not sit still. She immersed herself into teaching, like her mother and became a substitute elementary school teacher. She enjoyed the company of so many friends, especially those in her Canasta group. What gave her the greatest joy were her grandchildren. She was blessed with four amazing grandsons– all young men now: Austin, Ryan, Amar and Ishan. One only need to spend a few minutes with any of them to see Rupa’s kindness and sense of humor in them. They share her smile and her incredible work ethic.

She is survived by her sons, Jain and Sanjay Vyas, her daughters-in-law, Tammy and Neha Vyas, her sister, Madri Thaker, her nieces: Kala Lansberg, Premal Thaker and Ami Buckner, Ami’s husband, Nate Buckner and their children, Devin and Uma, her sister in law Daxa Vyas and her husband Jayesh Vyas, her sisters in law—Mridu Vyas and Vandana Khatodia and a legion of Trivedi’s across the country and around the world.