For longtime Eden Prairie residents Michael and Mai Bui, the Asia Mall being constructed in the shuttered Gander Outdoors building at 12160 Technology Drive is a chance to give their EP friends and neighbors greater exposure to Vietnamese cuisine.
The new food hall will include an Eden Prairie version of their Pho Mai restaurant, located in the Dinkytown area of Minneapolis, near the University of Minnesota, their alma mater. They also operate MT Noodles in Brooklyn Park and are soon opening a bubble-tea and mocha-donuts concept, Bober Tea and Mochi Dough. Ultimately, they would love to have all three concepts in the Asia Mall someday.
“We have a pretty strong following, but I’ve always wanted something close to home,” said Michael, who, with wife Mai, is raising four children in Eden Prairie.
“Given the 20-plus years we’ve spent in Eden Prairie, we came to realize that our city lacked an authentic Vietnamese restaurant. Thus, when the new Asia Mall was announced, we quickly secured the rights to open a Vietnamese restaurant in the mall.”
Though it may be another six or seven months before the local, 3,600-square-foot Pho Mai restaurant is open and serving dishes such as pho, com tam, bun cha, nem nuong, egg rolls, spring rolls, and banh mi sandwiches, construction is proceeding rapidly at the Asia Mall. The Asian Mart grocery store that will anchor the multi-tenant development may open as soon as June, said co-owner Amor Zhao, before other tenant spaces are complete.
While structural materials – including building joists – have been difficult to obtain because of supply-chain issues, the second-floor mezzanine that circles the interior of the building has been constructed, and tenant spaces are being built. Much of the outside of the building has already been remodeled to give it an Asian motif.
Zhao said the project is about 75 percent leased. Tenants include the 38,000-square-foot grocery store, which the ownership group will operate, and a mix of Chinese, Korean and other Asian-food restaurants such as Hot Pot City, Dosirak, Hong Kong Style, Szechuan Spicy, and Uni Uni Bubble Tea, in addition to Pho Mai.
Asia Mall is expected to also have offices and retail shops.
Zhao, who is originally from China and came to the U.S. when he was 16 years old, has seen similar concepts in cities such as Atlanta, Houston, New York City, and Toronto. But, to his knowledge, Asia Mall is the only project in the Twin Cities to combine so many Asian-themed businesses under one roof.
Anytime he’s planned a major gathering of friends, it has required stops at three or more stores. The Asia Mall is designed to solve that problem.
“Our group of five very good friends, got together and said, ‘Why don’t we do one Asian mall to help the community?’” he said. “Finally, this building became available, so we got to thinking, ‘OK, let’s do it … one stop to get everything you need.’”
It also provides a shopping experience familiar to Asian-American families, said Ange Hwang, a consultant to the group.
“This is the lifestyle: The whole family will come in to shop together,” she said. “And usually, the younger kids will go look for different things compared to their parents, so this type of set-up with the second floor with small retail and a food court will allow a teenager to hang out while Mom and Dad shop. So, it’s really designed for the whole family. It’s a very different kind of experience compared to the American way of shopping.”
They expect the mall to draw customers from as far as 30 miles away, and say the visibility from nearby highways, the easy access to the site, and the southwest suburban area’s growing Asian-American population favor the project.
“Eden Prairie is a good location,” said Zhao. “We like this area.”
The Asia Mall project has a website at www.asiamallmn.com.
Mark Weber is a member of the EPLN Board of Directors.