Grocery Giants Build Atlanta Koreatown

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Gwinnett County, 30 miles northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, is rapidly developing into another American Koreatown. Five large ethnic grocery stores operate in the area, with four having opened since November 2004.

The stores carry food for all Asian nationals, plus Mexicans and even for mainstream Americans. The Korean population in the direct area is between 40,000 to 100,000, with at least as many Koreans living in nearby places as there are in the Atlanta area.

Although smaller cities within about 500 miles of Atlanta have their own small stores, many of these stores depend on Atlanta wholesalers for their supply.

The emergence of this grocery store trend in part reflects a growing influence of immigrants in Atlanta. Among these, Koreans are more established, with business and community growing explosively in the last 20 years.

For example, in 1970 there were only some 300 Koreans in Atlanta, with 13,000 by 1997, according to Elizabeth Kurylo in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Many of these “new Koreans” are from America already — especially New York, Virginia and Chicago. The Korean Southeast News points to a second wave of Korean American in-migration in the past three years.

Over time, a cluster of businesses along Buford Highway became known as Koreatown, featuring offices, restaurants, gift shops, video stores and other businesses catering to Koreans in America.

Now, the Korean grocery market has begun to encompass a vast cross section of the city’s eating habits, such that one report described the Buford Highway corridor as “the greatest concentration of ethnic-owned businesses in the Southeast.”

In addition to its Korean clientele base, the merchants offer fresh items from around the world, including ingredients for Central and South America diets, Caribbean Islands’ spices, and meat and fish favorites for many cultures.

A number of larger East Coast Asian market companies, such as New York-based HanAhReum and Washington, D.C.-based Grand Mart International Food, have branched out in the Southeast to take advantage of the interest in large-scale farmers’ markets.

Some observers point to the absence of seaside escapes in land-locked Atlanta as spawning a type of grocery tourism with people flocking to the shops just to see the live fish on display, according to Chul Min Lim, Chango Sikpoom store manager. The city has been a key transport hub since before the American Civil War, making it possible for shoppers from throughout the Southeast to access these growing markets.

Super H Mart

Size: 65,000 square-foot

Opened: Nov. 6, 2004

Ownership: New York-based HanAhReum Asian Mart Corp., a wholesaler with groceries along the East Coast.

Items: Kim chee, refrigerators and other Asian specialty items, but also has fresh seafood, foods from Vietnam and a variety of fruits.

Interesting: Carries high-end Asian imports with Western goods in kiosks from specific countries such as Japan, Korea and China, as well as Korean furniture.

Surroundings: Store is central to The Park Village, which includes about 90 businesses, including a Chinese acupuncture clinic and a Vietnamese noodle shop. Complex is designed for Asian American shoppers.

Mercado del Pueblo

Size: 89,000 square-foot

Opened: Dec. 2, 2004

Ownership: Washington, D.C.-area chain, Grand Mart International Food. Opened in an old K-Mart.

Items: Household products, wide array of fresh vegetables, meats and fish from Latin America and Asia.

Interesting: Caters to a shopping population that is 95 percent Latino and about 5 percent Asian American. In Washington, D.C., and Virginia they cater to mainly Asians, but find the Atlanta market different. Features self-service counters such as in Latin American shops.

Surroundings: Anchor store at Green’s Corner on Jimmy Carter Boulevard.

Nam Dae Moon (Southgate)

Size: 110,000 square-foot

Opened: May 21, 2005

Ownership: Chicago-based Kipyo Hong and local Korean businessmen including Yong Dok Kim, the brother-in-law of Hong.

Items: Emphasizes fresh vegetables and seafood, affordable meats for the general public, hosts an Asian food court, Latin food court, opportunity to try something new.

Interesting: Also known as Gwinnett International Farmers Market, and carries a 50-50 mix of Asian and Latino products. More than 1,000 parking spaces.

Surroundings: A stand-alone shop once used as Bass Pro shop for outdoors equipment and hunting.

Assi Plaza International Food (Sugarloaf)

Size: 65,000 square-foot

Opened: March 22, 2005

Ownership: Maryland-based Rhee Bros., Inc., with markets in Los Angeles, Maryland, New York and Philadelphia.

Items: Asian foods and mainstream American food. The Assi-Pleasant Hill will carry a mix of Asian foods.

Interesting: The center includes restaurants: a food court with Korean, Japanese and Chinese foods.

Surroundings: The Assi Plaza shopping center houses about 8 other stores under the same roof.

Chango Sikpoom

Size: 140,000 square-foot

Opened: 1972

Ownership: Shin Young-kyo, who worked very hard with his wife at an Alabama chicken farm in their early years, leaving for work at about 3 a.m. every day.

Items: Fresh produce, seafood, meat. A bakery on site and an international food spread, includes American groceries plus Latino, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, Jamaican foods. A gift shop includes house wares and cosmetics.

Interesting: Called Buford Highway Farmers Market in English, this market has been the largest ethnic food store for about 30 years. A security tower in the middle of the store’s parking lot provides extra viewing against shoplifting. Clients come from Atlanta and throughout the Southeast, sometimes just to watch the live fish tanks.

Surroundings: Giant stand-alone warehouse store.

Chang Se-moon, Alex C. Park and Carla Williams-Namboodiri contributed to the report.

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