Asian Grocery Stores Are Fully Stocked, Ready to Serve and Have No Lines. Why Aren't You Going?

Kim Chi aisle at H Mart in Katy Asiatown.
Kim Chi aisle at H Mart in Katy Asiatown. Photo by Mai Pham
With news that employees at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and H-E-B have tested positive for Covid-19, many Houston-area grocers are now employing stricter measures to ensure the safety of their customers and staff. Plastic screens are being put up at the cashier stands to protect employees from inadvertently being exposed to cough and sneeze droplets. Other measures being implemented include providing gloves and masks to their workers, instituting social distancing measures in-store with marks on the floor to ensure that customers aren’t standing too close to one another, and instituting capacity controls so that the stores don’t get too crowded.

At popular stores such as Central Market and H-E-B, lines outside the store are now the norm as people wait for admittance. Contrast that a visit to an Asian grocery store like H Mart, Ranch 99, Viet Hoa, Jusgo, or Hong Kong Food Market.

At these Asian grocers, capacity controls have not yet been implemented because foot traffic has steeply declined since news of Covid-19 first surfaced in late January/early February. That means that there are no lines forming outside, and you can get in an out relatively easily, with plenty of room to keep a six foot distance from other customers. But it also means that these stores and their customers have been taking the virus seriously for months now.

At Viet Hoa on Beltway 8, though they haven’t had disinfectant wipes for their carts for some time, most incoming customers and all of the cashiers have been wearing masks for weeks. Each cashier had a large bottle of hand sanitizer ready at their station so that they could clean their hands after every interaction. There was also a hand sanitizing station just inside the exit so that you could clean your hands before leaving the store, and all this was also well before the CDC made a change to their mask wearing recommendations on April 3, 2020.

At Ranch 99 Market in Sugar Land recently, the store was similarly out of hand wipes for their grocery carts. But again, customers who shopped there — largely Asian — all came sporting their own masks and gloves. Ranch 99 had also installed splash guards at the cashier’s counter to protect their employees, and all cashiers were wearing masks.

It’s the same at Hong Kong Food Market in the heart of Asiatown, where a representative confirmed to the Houston Press that they have installed shields at register, provide hand sanitizer, gloves and masks to all their employees, and have markers on the floor to enforce a six foot social distance at the checkout line.
click to enlarge Prepared ban chan aisle at H Mart Katy Asiatown. - MAI PHAM
Prepared ban chan aisle at H Mart Katy Asiatown.
Mai Pham
And at H Mart, arguably the cleanest and most organized of the Asian grocers, the CEO has increased the daily sanitation and cleaning schedules of each of the stores, while committing to pay his frontline staff an extra $2 per hour for continuing to serve the community.

So before you get in line and wait 30 minutes to an hour to get into your favorite grocery store, consider giving business to the Asian grocers. Not only will you find plenty of rice, eggs, water, seafood, meat and fresh produce — and yes! toilet paper! — if you plan accordingly, you’ll be in and out in the same amount of time that it’ll take you to get in the door elsewhere.

And if you’re worried because they don’t have those sanitizing wipes for your carts? Don’t be. Because it’s common practice among Asian communities to wear masks and gloves, there has been heightened awareness about hygiene since well before the country/county took similar measures. And, since customers and staff alike have worn masks as a matter of course for months, this means that there is less of a chance of virus-carrying droplets being spread overall. Most shoppers will also avoid you as much as you avoid them, ensuring that everyone is keeping a safe social distance.

Just come prepared with your own gear (hand sanitizer, masks), as the other customers do, and you just might find a shopping experience that exceeds your expectations in price, quality, and efficiency.
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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham