Grocery stores abound in Austin, and we’re not talking only about H-E-B, Randalls and Whole Foods.
International stores have long served customers throughout Central Texas, particularly in North, South and East Austin, and those options have increased in number as the city’s population has grown and diversified.
Here’s a look at a handful of these stores, starting with one of the city’s first international stores.
Back in 1967, Sally Matsumae’s grandmother, Shigeko Burnie, opened what was likely Austin’s first international market, a precursor to what is now Asahi Imports.
The store, then called Shigeko’s Imports, started selling out mostly gifts after Burnie and her husband, a serviceman from Michigan who had been stationed in Okinawa, moved to Austin to be near Bergstrom Air Force Base.
"They would travel to Houston to get some things; there wasn’t anywhere to get it here," Matsumae says. Her grandmother met an importer and started ordering goods from all over the world. Customers "would request something, and she’d hunt it down," she says.
Matsumae’s dad took over the store in the 1980s. He decided to focus on only Japanese products and changed the name, and they eventually moved from North Loop to Burnet Road. The store continues to sell an ever-changing inventory, including more fresh ramen noodles than ever, as well as natto and high-grade fish for at-home sushi chefs.
Phoenicia Bakery is another early international market success stories. In 1979, the Abijaoude family opened the first Phoenicia on South Lamar Boulevard, and for decades, customers flocked in for their creamy hummus and tahini, a fresh olive bar, as well as savory schwarma and gyro meat. In 1999, the family added a second location on Burnet Road. The store continues to provide Mediterranean staples, such as pita bread, feta and olives, to other stores throughout Central Texas.
Quality Halal Market
Syed Ali moved to Central Texas in 2012 after working as a police officer in London, and even though he’d never worked in food, he says he wanted to do something different, so he opened a grocery store and meat market on Parmer Lane called Quality Halal Market.
Since the store opened in 2013, customers come from Killeen, Temple and Corpus Christi to buy goat liver and kidney or chicken, some of his best sellers. Ali, who has had relatives living in Central Texas for more than 40 years, has increased inventory over the years, adding products such as molokhia leaves, Indian yams and halal bacon, some due to customer request. He carries frozen foods, including prepared meals, naan and other breads like paratha and pooris, as well as fresh produce, milk and eggs that people might not want to get at the H-E-B across the street.
"I didn’t open my store to become rich. I opened it to provide for my community a place where they can gather and talk and buy what they need," Ali says.
Sadiq Islam has owned Shahi Foods at he corner of North Lamar Boulevard and Parmer Lane for more than 15 years, and its shelves are filled with canned goods, snacks, sauces, oils, vinegars and countless other products from dozens of countries, from Pakistan to Poland.
Islam has lived in Central Texas since 1982, running convenience stores for much of that time, and he’s slowly expanded his store to include a halal meat counter and a sit-down cafe, where customers can order falafel, shawarma and a stuffed bread called mughlai parata.
H Mart and 99 Ranch Market
In 2018, two of the country’s best known Asian food chains opened their first locations in Austin, and it was a game changer for the local grocery industry.
Austinites who have spent time in Houston, Los Angeles or Chicago knew what a big deal H Mart and 99 Ranch Market were before they opened their first Austin-area stores at 11301 Lakeline Blvd. and 6929 Airport Blvd., respectively, and in the past two years, the grocery stores have become popular destinations for customers looking for Korean, Japanese, Chinese and other Asian staples, from mochi and miso to bulgogi and banchan.
H Mart, housed in a 68,670-square-foot space that used to be a Sports Authority and Bed Bath & Beyond, has nearly 100 stores across the country, and the Cedar Park location has a different vibe than the 100,000-square-foot MT Supermarket on North Lamar Boulevard, which opened in 1984 and remains the area’s largest international market.
Like Hana World Market, which opened in 2011, and Han Yang, which opened in the mi-1990s, these stores carry fresh produce and meat, as well as rice, noodles, spices and canned goods. (Hana World Market, H Mart and 99 Ranch Market also have food courts that draw their own crowds.)