FOOD & MORE. Kevin Yang poses in his family-owned Asian Foods
Market and Restaurant in Starkville, Mississippi. Among his many
duties is the role of interpreter, since little of the packaging
on the items sold in the market are written in English. (Slim
Smith/The Commercial Dispatch via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V30, #06 (May 4, 2020), page 12.
Man gives ingredients, Asian recipes at
By Slim Smith
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — When the first wave of COVID-19
panic buying swept through Starkville more than a month ago,
there was no run on toilet paper at Asian Foods Market on
Asian Foods Market sells a little of most everything and a
lot of some things, but no toilet paper.
That doesn’t mean the family-owned business was immune to
"For us, it was rice," said Kevin Yang, whose parents opened
the store in 2011 and added a restaurant next door two years
ago. "Lots of rice. About two weeks after spring break,
everybody started hoarding rice all at the same time."
The variety of rice, often called "sticky rice," is sweeter
and stickier than the conventional white rice typically consumed
by non-Asians in the U.S. While that "American" rice is usually
sold in one- or two-pound packages, the rice Asian Market sells
comes in a single size — 50-pound bags.
"In most Asian cultures, rice is the basis of just about
every meal," Yang said. "I don’t even know what you would
compare it to in American food, maybe milk? All I know is that
rice is something every Asian household has stocked."
You might think a 50-pound bag of rice would go a long way.
Not so, Yang said.
"At the start of all this, we sold a pallet of rice in one
day," Yang said. "That’s sixty 50-pound bags of rice. People
would come in, buy two bags, and then come the next day and buy
two more. It was crazy."
Yang, 22, is the first native-born American in his family.
His parents immigrated to the U.S. from China in the mid-1980s,
settling in Brooklyn, New York.
The family moved to Starkville when Yang was two years old,
buying the old Taste of China Restaurant before later shifting
the focus to a market, something the family felt filled a void
in the market where Mississippi State’s large Asian student
population has started to grow.
"A lot of our business comes from Mississippi State," Yang
said. "Our store is about the only place they can find many of
the things you need in Asian cooking. We filled a niche and
we’ve grown our business pretty steadily over the years."
As it is with most family-owned businesses, Yang grew up in
the market, performing just about every job there.
"When I was in seventh grade, I was checking out customers,"
he said. "I’ve done everything, but now mainly I work in the
kitchen cooking with my father."
Yang said business is "doing OK" during the COVID-19 crisis,
so far. The exception is the restaurant which, like all
restaurants, relies exclusively on take-out orders.
"We’re not really doing much business on the restaurant
side," Yang said. "We still keep it going, though."
Yang said the restaurant has already proven its strategic
"What we’ve seen since we opened the restaurant is that it’s
brought in a lot more (non-Asian) customers," Yang said. "They
come in, taste the food, and decide they want to make it at
home. Since the market is in the same building, they’ll come
over and shop."
For Yang and the other workers, there is also another task
they happily perform.
"Almost none of the writing on the packages is in English,"
he said. "So we’ll read the packing and tell them about the
He also provides cooking tips.
"I always ask them what they have," he said. "Do they have
pork? I’ll make some suggestions about some pork dishes. I think
it’s fun for a lot of customers to sort of discover a new style
of cooking. That’s good for us, so we’re happy to help."
Yang said that while the market has held its own during the
crisis, there’s a chance business will eventually decline.
"A lot depends on what happens in the fall when classes at
Mississippi State begin again," he said. "We’ll be watching to
see if the international students come back. If they don’t,
that’s going to affect us. We’ve built our business on them and
while we are getting more (non-Asians) customers, the Asians
students are who we rely on the most."