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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 17, 2001

Korean grocer to expand reach

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

The first Korean immigrants to Hawai'i disembarked in January 1903, ready to begin their new lives, and "they started making kim chee the day they arrived."

Hyo Kyu Lim and his wife, Haejoo Lim, will venture beyond their Palama Supermarket and open another, near Daiei.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Duk Hee Murabayashi, vice chairwoman of the Korean Centennial committee, said within two years more than 7,200 workers, including 600 women, lived in sugar plantation camps.

"They used ingredients available here and adapted it to their meals," she said.

As the population grew, Joe Kim opened the first commercial kim chee factory in Honolulu in the early 1940s, Murabayashi said.

Today, just as these immigrants have been woven into the fabric of Hawai'i, the food they brought with them has become an important part of the local experience.

Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of Korean products, immigrant entrepreneur Hyo Lim plans to open his second Asian supermarket in a $3 million development near the Daiei Kaheka store.

"Korean products are getting more popular, so even people that didn't try before, now they eat and like kim chee and barbecue meat," Lim said.

Roy Yamamoto, architect for the project, said he expected to turn in building permit applications last week for the 15,000-square-foot two-story market, with construction beginning early next year and taking about 10 months.

Lim moved to Hawai'i in 1971 to attend the University of Hawai'i and earned a bachelor's degree in agriculture in 1975. He owns and operates Palama Super Market in Kapalama Shopping Center on Dillingham Boulevard. The clean, well-lit store has a reputation for being one of the best places in Honolulu to find fresh, authentic Korean products.

Lim has 25 years of experience in grocery retail, having run the Dae Han Market on the corner of Kalakaua Avenue and Philip Street for 11 years before opening his Palama market in 1987. He is also a wholesaler of Korean products, selling to other retail stores and restaurants.

Three years ago he purchased a former gas station site at Kalakaua Avenue and Makaloa Street and spent $180,000 cleaning the property of contaminants left over from the fuel tanks.

Lim called the location, directly across from Daiei, a mixed blessing.

"It's good because it can draw more customers," Lim said. But "to have competition (so close), that is a little bit dangerous. Because I'm an importer and supply my store and other stores as a wholesaler, that is a strong point. My cost is low."

Analysts have questioned the health of Daiei Inc., Japan's second-largest retailer, since its $18.7 billion debt led Moody's Investors Service to cut Daiei's financial ratings in September. Daiei will be selling some assets, but has not specified which ones.

To help cover his loan, Yim will rent out office space on the second floor, small sections inside the store for carts, and operate a food court. There also will be three small islands for rent in the second-floor parking lot.

Lim expects to create between 45 and 55 jobs.

The store will stock an array of Korean grocery items, including pickled garlic, taegu (shredded spice codfish), seasoned dried anchovies, prepared sesame leaves and a host of other prepared foods. It will carry dried seaweeds, dried vegetables, noodles, grains, teas, flours and seasonings.

Yim said one of his most popular items is freshly made Korean-style sushi: a seaweed-wrapped roll of rice, seasoned bits of beef, carrot, takuan (yellow pickled radish), spinach and egg, lightly brushed with sesame oil and topped with sesame seeds.

With many Koreans living in the Kaheka area, Lim said his market will be convenient for customers and close to bus lines for those who live in East Honolulu.

Hawai'i has 23,537 residents of Korean ancestry, according to the 2000 census. But Edward Schultz, director of the Center for Korean Studies at the University of Hawai'i, said the figure is probably closer to 35,000 when you take into account everyone who is part Korean.

The first wave of Korean immigrants came to Hawai'i as sugar cane workers in 1903. A second wave migrated to the state beginning in 1965.

"The newer group is very interested in establishing their roots and getting an identity in Hawai'i," Schultz said. "They have assimilated into the various communities, and many live around Ke'eaumoku, where the new supermarket is planned and there are a lot of Korean shops. Also in the Liliha area and Palama there is a large number of Koreans. But they live all over the island."

Schultz said the population is not growing rapidly today because Korean immigrants tend to go to the Mainland rather than Hawai'i.

"They go there for the same reasons our high school and college students move there — greater opportunity and jobs," he said.

Reach James Gonser at jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2431.