New market serves Asian specialtiesWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Toledo residents who travel an hour or more for Asian grocery items can cut down on car time, thanks to the recent opening of Lai Lai Asian Mart.
“Toledo has a growing Asian, Asian-American population and there’s a spike in Asian cooking and Asian cuisine so we wanted to cater to the population. A lot of Toledoans would have to drive to Ann Arbor to find the best selection and prices on Asian groceries, so we wanted to try to eliminate that travel expense,” said Pauline Chen, owner Joey Chen’s daughter, who helps with the store and marketing.
The 4,800-square-foot store mostly carries items from China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan and a few products from Thailand and Vietnam. In the future, the store may stock more South Asian products.
So far, business has been good for Lai Lai, which opened Jan. 7, Joey said. He and Pauline emphasized that the employees are there to help and that people of non-Asian descent are certainly welcome.
“Our store is very friendly to people who aren’t familiar with Asian cooking and people who come in here are free to ask us questions. We can tell them the difference between this thing and that thing. We’re always here to help,” Pauline said.
“Whatever they need, we do our best to try to get it for them,” Joey added.
In the future, Lai Lai may offer cooking classes to further educate the population on Asian cuisine, he said.
The store also expects to get a shipment of live blue crabs from the New Orleans area soon and plans on getting new shipments of the crustaceans every other week. Fresh produce is delivered in the middle of the week.
Lai Lai’s Central Avenue location has made it a hit among University of Toledo’s exchange students.
“Students can come here to have something from their countries they cannot usually buy [in the U.S.],” Joey said.
Joey has his own experience with being far from home. Of Chinese descent, but born in South Korea, he emigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan in 1986. He then worked in the restaurant industry in the ’80s and went on to the seafood import/export business.
Pauline said Lai Lai has a great variety, with wide aisles, good lighting and neat stacks of products.
“We have a lot of things. It could be a little overwhelming at first, but we’re always here to help you find what you need. Just bring in your recipe and we’ll help you. There’s no need to be afraid of Asian cooking,” Pauline said.
Her personal favorite items include mochi, Japanese rice cakes available with red bean filling.
“It’s a really popular dessert; it’s really sweet,” Pauline said, adding, “If people are adventurous, I would suggest the fried squid that we have. It’s really good to just chew on.”
Joey favors the frozen meals for their convenience and nutrition, as well as ramen. “People think they are bad, but right now, we have a lot of ramen noodles that are not fried, but baked, and not oily with not much MSG,” he said.
Lai Lai Asian Mart is at 3205 W. Central Ave., Toledo. The store’s hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon-8 p.m. Sunday. To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/lailaiasianmart or call (419) 725-3563.
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