“Someone stop me!” laughed one shopper next to a freezer packed with mandu, gyoza, and other dumpling products. The H Mart shopper told her friend she couldn’t not stop herself from filling up her cart during the store’s opening weekend.
The Asian supermarket chain from New Jersey opened its first Arizona store in Mesa on Thursday, June 11, just across the street from Mekong Plaza. The coronavirus pandemic delayed the store’s planned opening for late February or early March. The Mesa location is the newest addition to the H Mart company, which has more than 97 stores around the nation.
The line to get into the store on Saturday wrapped around the block by opening time — and still there 90 minutes later. Store workers handed out plastic gloves at the entrance.
Everyone wore masks.
Jason Lewis and Kaityln Kawaguchi said they used to live in Virginia, where there are seven H Mart locations.
“We liked the quality of products, from produce to meats,” says Kawaguchi.
They say they shop at stores like H Mart, Mekong Plaza, and the Arizona International Marketplace for food products that you can’t find in other stores. Our own Mesa location showcases a wall of kimchi jars next to a refrigerated section dedicated to K-Sides, banchan specialties like salted fish, and pickled vegetables.
“A lot of the produce and stuff like bok choy and the big bags of rice that we use,” says Lewis. “So we have to come to stores like this to get marinated beef like bulgogi and things like that. You can't get that stuff at Safeway.”
Saturday marked the second H Mart visit for Milagros Kodumal. She said it was crowded on Thursday for opening night.
She came back because she heard there was a sale on lobster.
“It’s just a little bit pricey compared to International and Mekong, but I like it. Something different,” says Kodumal. “They’re more Korean, you know, kimchi and all that stuff. So if you want Korean, just go here.”
Brightly lit aisles in H Mart carried some of the same sections that you can find inside Mekong Plaza and Arizona International Marketplace: from shelves dedicated to soy sauce bottles and rows packed with instant noodles.
Kodumal flagged me down next to the fresh lychee section.
“No lobster sale,” she told me. Apparently, there was a misunderstanding on opening weekend specials.
Other H Mart shoppers browsed through piles of papaya, Korean pears, and white dragon fruit. The butchers section carried cuts of Berkshire Farms pork and American wagyu. There were also packages of thinly sliced brisket and rib-eye meat for Shabu-shabu.
No Shabu-shabu pot at home? You can pick up an electric one next to the check-out stands, next to the boxes of food dehydrators and touch-screen air fryers.
Customers crowded into the seafood section to check out mounds of tiger shrimp, carp, rockfish, and monkfish. The nearby frozen section carried sea bass and abalone.
David Packard is with the City of Mesa’s office of economic development.
“It's a real point of pride that H Mart would notice Mesa and everything it has to offer,” says Packard. “H Mart did a lot of research. They're located right along the light rail line. They are located next to so many different Asian businesses. I think it's a great location and I think they're set up for success.”
Packard says H Mart is a welcome addition to Asian District, which was established to recognize all the different communities in Mesa.
“There are so many cultures and countries represented here,” he says. “And people are coming from all across the Valley. They come from Phoenix. They come from even the west Valley. We even got survey responses from people in Tucson or Flagstaff who actually come and shop regularly in this area. So I think this makes the Asian District a destination for so many people.”
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