“There weren’t a lot of options for shopping, groceries or anything like that,” says Wong, who serves as president of the Greater Cleveland chapter of OCA — Asian Pacific American Advocates.
That’s not the case anymore, as our “Cultural Feast” feature demonstrates. “The community is growing,” says Wong, who helped start the Cleveland Asian Festival in 2010. “My mom is very happy today that there are four large Asian grocery stores in AsiaTown.”
Wong points to that first festival as a tipping point of sorts. The various cultural organizations that make up the community came together for the festival, hoping to draw about 5,000 people for that first event. It attracted double that number.
Now the festival, held each May in the Asia Plaza shopping center parking lot and surrounding streets, stretches over two days and brings in about 50,000 for its authentic food, martial arts demonstrations, neighborhood trolley tours and more.
What’s just as amazing is that each year, about a quarter of those attendees have never been to AsiaTown before, Wong says. If that’s the case, you’re missing out.
AsiaTown’s strong immigrant presence working in the grocery stores, shops and restaurants makes it special, she says. There are at least three places to get traditional Chinese dim sum, a row of Vietnamese restaurants serving pho (it’s pronounced “fuh,” by the way), a Taiwanese bakery, Korean barbecue spots and a new karaoke club. “It’s authentic,” she says. “It’s pure because it’s coming from the immigrant communities.”
Wong wants the neighborhood to grow even stronger. She points to Mueller Lofts, 51 apartments opening in the renovated 1922 Mueller Electric Building on East 31st Street this summer. Catering to young professionals and families, it could be just the thing to draw millennials back to AsiaTown to live and invest. And then, who knows?
“We’re hoping that [AsiaTown] becomes a destination,” she says, “just like New York or Chicago or Toronto.”
8:00 AM EST
March 1, 2018