Viet Hoa Food Market has been in business at 40 North Cleveland Street in the Madison Heights neighborhood since 2002, but this multicultural Asian market has a much longer history.
“The store comes from my last generation,” said owner Tommy Fan. “My mother-in-law started the first one on Poplar Avenue in 1985. Later, she moved the store to 78 North Cleveland and then to our current location.”
“Our prices are real low," said Fan. "We are honored and happy to service our customers. We like this community."
The store is open daily from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. and stocks fresh produce, seafood, meat, frozen goods and self-stable groceries, as well as household, holiday and religious items specific to the Asian cultures represented in the market.
“We sell Southeast Asia, Thai and Vietnamese items. We also sell [Chinese] products,” said Fan.
Some foods like chicken, potatoes and rice are familiar to most homes and tables across Memphis. Others like duck feet or durian fruit are more specific to Memphis' Asian American families and restaurants.
Customer Diana Johnson has lived in or near Madison Heights her whole life and was excited when the Viet Hoa Food Market opened.
People of non-Asian heritage might feel that the store isn’t for them, but Johnson said a first visit is all it takes to know you’re a valued customer regardless of your background.
“I'm not a Vietnamese American, and my first time in here, I was afraid of standing out,” she said. “But the people there make me feel welcome. You can tell it's a family-owned store.”
Johnson says it’s convenient for her and adds to the overall appeal of the area because it’s part of a larger Vietnamese presence in Madison Heights that’s unique to Memphis.
“I feel like the neighborhood could use something like this.” said Johnson. “There's three Vietnamese places in a row and that's quite different.”
Viet Hoa Food Market, Thong's Auto Repair and Vietnam Restaurant are all located on the east side of Cleveland Street just north of Madison Avenue and are owned and operated by local Vietnamese families. Thong’s has been in business at the same location since 1997.
Related: “What's in a name? People of Madison Heights talk labels and identity”
The Viet Hoa Food Market has been located at 40 North Cleveland Street in Madison Heights since 2002, but the family-owned business has been operating since 1985. (Cole Bradley)
A private, family-owned Vietnamese temple and Sacred Heart Church, which provides Sunday services to around 150 Vietnamese families, are also located near the three businesses.
Memphis is home to roughly 3,000 Vietnamese immigrants, most of whom came to the U.S. beginning in the mid-1970s to escape political instability after the Vietnam War. Many of those immigrants and their families now call Madison Heights home, making it one of the largest non-Latino immigrant enclaves in the city.
Related: “From refugees to restauranteurs: Vietnam War-era immigrants make Memphis home”
Although Viet Hoa is a fairly large market and often bustling with customers, the atmosphere is not as hectic as many other markets or large grocery stories. The staff is kind and calm, the customers are polite and typically unrushed.
“I come in here, and it's always laid back,” said Johnson. “Even when there's a lot of customers in here, people don't run each other over. And the staff is really friendly."
“It's almost like Kroger but with an Asian twist," she continued. "The food is really good, and I like to try new things,” said Johnson. “My daughter asks to come here all the time. We both like trying new food.”