Kam Man from NJ helped start the wave of Asian supermarkets
HANOVER-EST – The smell of barbecue and pan-fried buns radiates through the food court at Kam Man Food Market.
It’s Saturday morning at the Morris County Chinese supermarket. Chef Tony Huang and his team serve roast pork buns, ducks, congee and other delicacies. A multiracial line of patrons awaits the fresh and hot treats that come out of the kitchen.
“It’s first come, first served,” Kam Man President Bill Woo said. Delicious baked goods like egg tarts and pineapple rolls usually sell out by late afternoon, Woo said. If there are any leftovers, they are returned to staff at the end of the day – never resold the next day.
“In business, your reputation is most important and that reputation accumulates over years and years of positive interactions with your customers,” Woo said., The Plate, a second generation owner who is also a Councilor at Englewood Cliffs.
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An Ivy League graduate who decided to return to the family business, Woo bought Kam Man’s East Hanover site in 2015 from his uncle. Now 44, he applies skills learned in international business to change trends in an ethnic food industry that is growing rapidly as America evolves.
Woo grew up in the family business that his father Wanchi and his uncle Wellman founded in Manhattan’s Chinatown in 1972. Their first store was called Kam Kuo, which means “land of gold” in Chinese.
Kam Kuo was the first large-scale one-stop-shop Asian supermarket on the east coast, before ethnic foods became all the rage, Woo said. He spread to New Jersey with Kam Man (“golden gate”) in Edison in 1995, which remains the property of the family. East Hanover Kam Man opened four years later. Another relative has a location in Quincy, Massachusetts.
Part supermarket, souvenir shop, bakery and food court, the East Hanover store offers an assortment of Asian goods. There is a wide choice of food products ranging from sauces to teas. A separate section offers fresh seafood, meats and specialty products. Asian household items such as tea bowls and sets can be found in the gift items section. The food court offers a dining area for sipping bubble tea or munching on treats.
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Woo grew up in Fort Lee and attended Horace Mann Private School in the Bronx, before graduating in 1999 from Brown University with a major in economics. He moved to Asia in 2009 to work for a supply chain management company, meeting his wife in Shanghai. The couple moved to Englewood Cliffs in 2011, where they were first elected in 2016. Woo, a Republican, describes himself as a moderate politician.
The family business has always been deeply rooted in the heart of Woo. He enjoys interacting with customers and coming up with new ideas that are trendy. He is also passionate about fitness and owns an Orange Theory Fitness gym franchise.
“I am a retail entrepreneur and always enjoy serving customers,” Woo said. “I love to be involved in retailing products and services that are in the health and wellness space. I think your physical and mental health is the most important asset.”
Woo is quick with a smile but also lives a life of strict discipline. He’s at work at six in the morning, juggling a myriad of tasks as a business owner and elected official.
An ABC, or Chinese-born American, Woo’s father passed away when he was 11. Recalling the lessons given by his father and uncle, Woo knew from an early age that he wanted to control his own destiny.
“I’ve always had that seed in mind,” he said, “to get involved and learn to be an entrepreneur.”
Huang, his business partner and chef at Kam Man, helps operate the market, which employs 40 people. Skilled cooks are hard to find, with Kam Man operating a van service for workers who live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
“We are fortunate to have a great staff who have been with us for many, many years,” said Woo, who easily switches between English and fluent Mandarin while speaking with the workers. .
It’s the staff who develop relationships with customers, Woo said. Among Kam Man’s many loyal customers is Margaret Lam of Montville, who noted that the market offers an excellent selection of Chinese food and good service.
A Chinese supermarket is different from other Asian markets. Chinese specialties like roast pork, chicken in soy sauce and roast duck are on the menu at Kam Man. Although the store sells kimchi, it is not the small batch kimchi that can be found at Korean specialty market H Mart.
The ethnic supermarket industry generates some $ 44 billion in annual revenue in the United States and is only expected to grow with the increase in the country’s Asian and Hispanic populations, according to projections from the IBIS World market research. The market has grown by around 4% per year since 2016 and is expected to repeat this trend in 2021, the companies said.
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American palaces have changed. Ethnic foods are growing in popularity with all demographic groups, from Gen Z to baby boomers, said Eugene Fram, professor emeritus at the Rochester Institute of Technology specializing in retail.
Ethnic supermarkets will continue to grow, Woo predicted.
“Food is an international industry and consumers are always looking to spice up their palates,” Woo said.
Kam Man will evolve to adapt to changing consumer tastes, Woo said. He plans to expand the food court offering to include a noodle bar or other concept. Woo is also in the process of opening a Chinese fondue restaurant at the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford.
“We are always looking to keep up with the latest food trends and deliver products that are not only delicious, but healthy,” Woo said.
How to learn about Chinese cuisine
Don’t know where to start when it comes to Chinese cuisine? Here are some helpful tips from Bill Woo and Tony Huang:
- Familiarize yourself with the taste at a local restaurant. Once you get to know the food, find the recipe.
- Head to the Market and locate the shelf where the ingredient is placed and look for the empty or exhausted location. This is usually where the best-selling brand of this item is located.
- There are five key ingredients in Chinese cuisine: soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and rice wine. With these five dishes, a home chef can recreate many Chinese dishes.
Marie Chao 趙 慶 華 covers the Asian community and real estate for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news from North Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
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