Once upon a time, the strip center at 1801 S. Dairy Ashford was anchored by a Tuesday Morning and one of the city's few Eastern European restaurants, The Russian Bear, which turned into an all-out Slavic disco by night. West Houston has been a melting pot since the 1980s, when Memorial, Alief, and the nascent Energy Corridor each grew towards one another enough to form a confluence of cultures. And though the strip center here between Westheimer and Briar Forest has been empty for years, West Houston is now more diverse than ever. No surprise, then, that a Japanese retail giant is preparing to move into the property, recently renovated by owner David Z. Mafrige Interests.
As first reported by the Houston Business Journal, Hidejiro Matsu is planning on opening an 11,000-square-foot grocery store that will represent the first of its kind in the US. Matsu co-founded the California-based Marukai Market grocery chain, but retired in 2013 after the 40-year-old chain was sold to Japanese investors. Since then, Matsu has worked as a consultant helping new Japanese businesses get off the ground in America—including, it seems, his own new business right here in Houston.
The Japanese population in Houston has historically been low, with a little over 3,500 Japanese living in Harris County as of the 2010 Census—a figure which only represented 1.3 percent of the entire Asian population at the time. But, as the HBJ notes, growth in our city's Japanese population is on the rise. "In the past two years, membership to the Japanese Business Association of Houston increased by 50 percent to 681 members," writes Paul Takahashi. "Over the same time frame, Hoshuko, a local Japanese supplemental school, has seen its student population grow 71 percent to 480 students."
Speaking of keeping count, this makes the second market in Houston dedicated to stocking Japanese food (the as-yet-unnamed grocery store will also have its own in-house sushi counter), after the small but beloved Nippan Daido in nearby Westchase. It joins other successful supermarkets such as Viet Hoa, 99 Ranch Market, Super H Mart, and Jusgo, all of which have found that catering to Houston's ever-growing East Asian population is a business that's all but in the bag.