By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
IRVINE — Hundreds of people waited in line early Saturday morning for the grand opening of the Mitsuwa Marketplace at Heritage Center in Irvine. The Irvine location is the second in Orange County for the Japanese supermarket chain, which has nine stores nationwide.
At 9 a.m., shoppers streamed through the front door to grab up bargains and receive free Mitsuwa totebags, handed out to the store’s first 500 customers. Bruce Bailey, Mitsuwa president and CEO, said they conducted a nationwide search before deciding upon Irvine as the site for its new location.
Irvine was selected because of its base of Japanese and Asian customers, as well as the high level of income and easy access from the freeway. Bailey added that the supermarket is bringing 30 new jobs to the area.
“We are very proud of what we bring to the community and you have our commitment that we will bring the best quality, highest service available,” said Bailey.
Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang joined in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new market. Drummers from L.A. Taiko Center also performed during the opening ceremony. Speaking to The Rafu Shimpo, Kang said that his wife has already been to Mitsuwa three times during its soft opening. He said the market exemplified Irvine’s diverse community, which is 40 percent Asian American, including 8 percent Japanese.
“Mitsuwa Marketplace being here really opens more opportunities for Asians to come and shop,” said Kang, who in 2008 became the first Korean American mayor of a major U.S. city. “This will present the whole city with true, authentic Japanese high-quality food. I’m very glad that Mitsuwa found a destination in Irvine. It’s the perfect spot for a market to be very successful.”
The new Mitsuwa has a concierge service, food court and a demonstration kitchen. On Saturday, chefs from the Sushi Institute of America were demonstrating how to make sushi.
Bailey said that Mitsuwa was debuting a new concept at the Irvine location, which is the company’s second-smallest store at 16,000 square feet. Much of the food preparation and inventory storage will be handled at the larger Costa Mesa branch, he explained. The food court also features only the most popular restaurants including Santouka Ramen.
Mitsuwa is offering daily specials in honor of the grand opening and will have a special mochitsuki (mochi pounding) on Monday, Jan. 2.
Tomie Woolsey of Orange was among the first customers in the new store.
“It’s nice but it’s too small, there is not enough selection,” said Woolsey. “For the space they accommodated pretty good, we have to give them some time.”
Daniel Cairns of Irvine, who came to the opening with some friends, said he also goes to the Costa Mesa Mitsuwa.
“I was trying to see what they had, I like the old marketplace and this one is closer to home. They have great deals like rice for $7.99,” said Cairns.