By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
WEST COVINA — Marukai held the grand opening of its second Tokyo Central supermarket in Southern California on Saturday.
The ceremony, which included a kagami-biraki (breaking open a sake barrel) and a ribbon-cutting, marked a new identity for West Covina’s Marukai, which opened 15 years ago.
The opening coincided with East San Gabriel Valley Japanese Community Center’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which took place in South Hills Plaza.
Marukai President Kenji Sekiguchi noted that Marukai was acquired two years ago by Don Quijote, a major Japanese retailer. “The reason why Don Quijote acquired Marukai was to serve more Japanese food and Japanese culture in the U.S. The first Tokyo Central opened in Costa Mesa in January this year. We are happy that the second Tokyo Central opened on the same day as the Cherry Blossom Festival.”
One characteristic of Tokyo Central is that it is “not like the old Japanese supermarkets that we see in the U.S.; this is the same standard of supermarket that you will see in Japan,” Sekiguchi said.
Secondly, the Marukai membership system has been eliminated for this store so that anyone can shop there.
Lastly, Tokyo Central has a large kitchen that serves a variety of delicatessen items cafeteria style, and a dining area for customers.
Sekiguchi thanked the local community for patronizing the store over the years and concluded by saying, “I hope this store serves you better for the future.”
“I was fortunate to get a peek at the market earlier this week,” ESGVJCC President Phillip Komai said. “I was very much impressed by the changes that have been made and I know this will be very well received by the community. So I’m wishing everyone a huge success.”
West Covina Mayor Fredrick Sykes commented, “It was very gracious of them to coordinate their opening with the festival so that you can get a double dose of information and experience … This is an absolutely wonderful way to learn about the Japanese culture …
“As the mayor of the city and part of the council that is always trying to make West Covina the best place for everyone to live, to work and enjoy life, it is our pleasure to say thank you so much to Marukai Corporation for trusting and continuing to be right here in West Covina … We appreciate all that you do for us.”
“We’d like to say a few words, since this is a Japanese market, in Japanese,” said Mayor Pro Tem James Toma. “Unfortunately, none of us actually speaks Japanese, but I have a friend who does.”
In Japanese, Toma said, “Congratulations on your new store. Welcome to West Covina once again. We wish you further success and prosperity.”
Also on hand for the ceremony were Councilmembers Mike Spence and Corey Warshaw; Phil Kaufman, Leticia Lopez and Gayle Mason of the Community and Senior Services Commission; Assistant City Manager Chris Freeland; and Fire Chief Larry Whithorn.
Sykes presented Sekiguchi with a proclamation from the city. Presentations were also made by Covina City Councilmember Jorge Marquez on behalf of State Sen. Ed Hernandez, and by Lawrence Shih on behalf of Supervisor Hilda Solis and the Board of Supervisors.
Employees lined up to welcome customers as they filed into the store, and handed balloons to the kids. Samples of scallops and shabu shabu beef were served, and the delicatessen was an immediate hit as people lined up for an assortment of hot lunch items.
The store is located at South Hills Plaza, 1420 S. Azusa Ave. (at Aroma Drive). Hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.
Upcoming events include the S&B Soup Fair, Imuraya Daifuku Fair and Nissui Shumai Fair from Thursday, March 26, to Sunday, March 29; a tuna-cutting show on Saturday, March 28, at 1 p.m.; and a character bento class on Sunday, March 29, at 11 a.m.
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo