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Whenever Marshall Nguyen’s family got together, they’d dash to grocery stores across Minneapolis, St. Paul, Brooklyn Park, and Brooklyn Center to purchase Asian food for their feasts.
Not having a centralized location for Asian groceries inspired developers and Nguyen to open the Twin Cities’ first pan-Asian mall–called Asia Mall–in Eden Prairie.
“From my experience, when we have family gatherings, we gotta go to this grocery store or that grocery store, this restaurant, that restaurant to pick up things,” Nguyen said. “What if we created a one-stop shop for … family gatherings and parties?”
The two-story mall is around 116,000 square feet, making it about 10 times smaller than the Southdale and Rosedale Centers. The mall’s owners aim to bring together food and drinks from several countries, including Vietnam, China, and Korea.
Mall owners plan to launch their two anchors during a soft opening, and slowly open more stores. Nguyen, the lead agent of a team of people developing Asia Mall, said supply chain problems make it difficult to predict the timing. He hopes the mall will hold a soft opening before the summer ends, and have its grand opening before winter.
Restaurants slated to be included will serve food from pho to hotpot to bubble tea, Nguyen said.
Vendors and owners hope Asia Mall will provide a community space where local residents can shop and dine in one place.
“If we’re able to have something centralized here in Eden Prairie … it makes it convenient for a lot of people,” Nguyen said.
Investing in Asian communities
In addition to his own experience, Nguyen reflected on the needs of the local community.
“Whatever the market was dictating, we were going with that trend,” Nguyen said. “The main partners … [own] different types of restaurants … from Chinese restaurants to Korean restaurants, Japanese restaurants, so they understood the market and what was successful within the Twin Cities.”
The owners of the mall plan on anchoring the space with an Asian grocery store and Hot Pot City, a restaurant which serves the Chinese dish hot pot. The grocery store also hopes to include the largest or one of the largest live seafood selections in the Twin Cities.
The mall is currently under construction, with much of the stores unfinished. However, workers have completed the main stairs, which are lined with traditional East Asian designs.
Nguyen hopes the entire mall will also closely resemble architecture and art found in East Asia. Current renderings show oval-shaped lights placed in groups of four and storefronts modeled after Chinese buildings.
While selling buildings in the real estate sector, Nguyen realized minorities were underserved in the commercial real estate world.
“I’ve seen people … [who] never got an attorney involved, or … never had representation,” Nguyen said. “I saw that growing up.”
He wanted to be part of the team developing Asia Mall as an investment in Asian communities. Nguyen, who currently lives in Prior Lake, immigrated to the U.S from Vietnam when he was *five. His grandpa served in the South Vietnamese army and came to the United States when the Vietnam War ended in 1975.
After arriving in the United States, Nguyen’s grandpa sponsored his kids’ immigration. Nguyen and his family came over in *1993.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Nguyen opened a nail salon before deciding to enter real estate.
“Becoming successful is not about you–it’s about serving the people,” Nguyen said. “My mindset is serving people first … and then whatever I get after that is a bonus.”
The developers want the mall to serve as a place where non-Asians can learn about East and Southeast Asian culture. They plan to feature different Asian new year themes.
“It’s open for everybody,” Nguyen said. “What people have to understand is that the goal here is to create a place where they can experience a little bit of Asia without leaving.”
A mother’s recipes
Michael Bui is opening a branch of his Vietnamese restaurant, called Pho Mai, in Asia Mall. He hopes customers can experience traditional Vietnamese food.
“There’s a lack of traditional Vietnamese food in Eden Prairie,” Bui said. “Most Vietnamese restaurants, they Americanized it … but for our concepts, we’re going back old school. It’s really traditional food that you’d get back in Vietnam.”
Like Nguyen, Bui hopes this branch of Pho Mai draws Asians and non-Asians.
“Initially, we were targeting more the Vietnamese community … but then as more Americans and other cultures and nationalities tried our food, they really wanted it just because it’s unique,” Bui said.
Bui came to the U.S. at six years old. For him, growing up in the 1980s in Minnesota was “a challenge” due to language and culture barriers.
“My mom, that’s all she knew was how to cook,” Bui said. “So she worked at restaurants and eventually started her own. Only problem was she knew how to cook but she didn’t know how to run her own business.”
After getting degrees in business, finance, and law, Bui decided to assist his mom. Due to its success, Bui opened up Pho Mai using mostly his mother’s recipes.
Bui plans on opening Asia Mall’s branch of Pho Mai in three to four months, but says the opening is not yet set in stone.
Room for all
The mall is located about 10 miles west of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America, a location developers picked in order to attract business from people visiting from out of state.
But Nguyen and other developers also decided to put Asia Mall in Eden Prairie to make sure it didn’t take customers away from long-established Asian business corridors in the Twin Cities.
A portion of Minneapolis’ Nicollet Avenue south of downtown is fondly nicknamed “Eat Street” for its collection of ethnic restaurants, particularly pan-Asian and Vietnamese eateries. University Avenue in St. Paul is known for its rich collection of pan-Asian and African restaurants, while the city’s Hmongtown Marketplace and Hmong Village offer several food stalls and shops in two separate, sprawling facilities.
The cities contain a lot of mom and pop shops, Nguyen said. Although Asia Mall would have done well in those areas, he picked Eden Prairie “where there’s not much competition, where everyone will be hopefully successful.”
Tenants are also attracted to Eden Prairie due to the local demand for Asian food.
Chang Yoo chose to open a new branch of his Korean hotdog restaurant, Cruncheese, in Asia Mall because of Eden Prairie’s high Asian population but lack of Asian restaurants and markets.
Yoo immigrated to Minnesota with his parents when he was in eighth grade. Part of what inspired him to go into the restaurant business was seeing his parents work hard after immigrating.
“They did pretty much everything like they were working as a janitor at the office building, cleaning office buildings after people leave, and they also did like painting houses.” Yoo said.
Yoo started working in the restaurant industry as a part-time server in college before taking over his aunt’s restaurant. His first restaurant, Mirror of Korea, had branches in St. Paul and Eden Prairie.
Yoo decided to open another branch of Cruncheese in Asia Mall after seeing how popular Asian food was with Eden Prairie locals.
In addition to restaurants, the mall’s developers have plans to add other services which require customers to come in.
“The goal is to create a one-stop shop so people spend time here,” Nguyen said. “Studies show … if you spend the most time at a certain place, the more money you’re going to spend.”
Nguyen hopes Asia Mall will boost the local economy. “The goal here is to bring in new blood, new concepts,” Nguyen said. “They’re bringing money to Minnesota versus taking it out.”
“I think the city is happy there’s taxes that the property creates and hopefully that will drive and make the economy much better,” Nguyen said.
About 77% of the building is currently leased to tenants, Nguyen said. Most of the tenants are restaurants, but also include a grocery store, salon, and insurance company.
Asia Mall’s future opening comes as another Asian market is also set to open in the Twin Cities. Nguyen is also part of a different team of developers who plan to launch an Asian supermarket, international food hall, and Brazilian steakhouse in the Burnsville Center, a mall in Burnsville.
The market will be an Enson Market, a national supermarket chain, Nguyen said.
Architects are currently starting the design for the food hall and market. Although Nguyen isn’t sure when construction will begin, he estimated that the Burnsville project would open sometime in the last four months of 2023.
*Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Marshall Nguyen’s age when he immigrated to the United States and the year his family arrived in the country.