Store manager Jim Stewart works on an isle of Asian fish sauces and vinegar in the Taste of the Orient grocery store located in the Shoppes at Exit 24. Bob Pennell / Mail Tribune photo - Bob Pennell

Local opens Asian foods store in Phoenix

PHOENIX — Eric Stewart admits frequent drives to San Francisco for his wife Serjean's favorite groceries was taxing.

His solution reduced the wear and tear of travel, but remains time-consuming.

Stewart and his brothers Jim and Mark started Taste of the Orient grocery store in The Shoppes at Exit 24 last fall. The Pinoy/Asian market features ethnic food and products from throughout the Far East.

"I've never been in the food business before, but I've been to the Philippines five times," Stewart said. "My wife is Filipino, and I got tired of driving to San Francisco twice a month. I know there is a good-sized Asian population in the valley and decided to start it up. I've talked to lot of Filipinos, and I know they are excited about getting their foods, brands and what not; that's what got me going."

It took a couple of years for Stewart to connect with distributors used to delivering to the desired foods to markets in larger cities. But from San Francisco and Seattle to Manila, Thailand, and Vietnam, the goods now flow into the 2,000-square-foot market along Interstate 5.

While the incumbent Asian Market near WinCo in south Medford primarily carries Korean products, Taste of the Orient imports products from Japan south to Indonesia.

"One customer came in and began to cry because she hadn't seen banana blossoms from her home country in 30 years," Stewart said.

Although he's keeping his day job as service manager at Jahnke Heating & Air Conditioning, Stewart has adopted a continual contact approach with his clientele, developing an e-mail data base. He plans to add online sales this summer. "We really try to keep up on customer requests," Stewart said. "People come in with packages and say 'Can you find this for me?' I dive right into it and usually have their products in two weeks or less. When we get a new shipment of fruit or vegetables, we e-mail the customers, and they really like that."

In addition to importing goods from the other side of the Pacific, Stewart ships products the other way.

Taste of the Orient is a collection site for Luzon Brokerage Corp., a global Philippine parcel service. For $75, the company ships anything legal that fits in a 24-inch, by 20-inch, by 20-inch box.

"It's a poor country and people ship school supplies, clothing, electronics, food," he said. "It's shipped and usually arrives at the door in 35 to 40 days."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

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