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Mochi donuts and Korean barbecue have taken the place of hunting and fishing equipment at a prominent retail site on the Eden Prairie corner of the highway loop around the Twin Cities.

Asia Mall opened Thursday in a former Gander Outdoors store that creators are hoping will become a destination in an area that has few options for those who want to shop for authentic Asian food and supplies. It's an upscale, superstore take on the ethnic market experience, with two levels of retail accented by a central staircase, expansive open space, and digitized ordering screens.

There's even a couple of robots that deliver food.

"Whenever we go to family gatherings we have to stop at one grocery store here and one grocery there," said Marshall Nguyen, of the Caspian Group, who helped broker the development. "We waste a lot of time spreading out and going to different places to get goods. The idea was 'why can't we create a one-stop shop for a lot of Asian products?'"

Truc Pham walked her children Abigail Nguyen, 5, and Lucas Nguyen, 1, up to the fresh flower display at the new Asia Mall in Eden Prairie.
Truc Pham walked her children Abigail Nguyen, 5, and Lucas Nguyen, 1, up to the fresh flower display at the new Asia Mall in Eden Prairie.

Renée Jones Schneider | Star Tribune, Star Tribune

Motioning to the customers that were quickly filling the Asia Mall on Thursday afternoon, Nguyen said that all kinds of people, whether they are Asian or not, can find something to experience at the center.

"I think the most beautiful part of Minnesota is it's a big melting pot," he said.

Asia Mall features a wide range of Asian cuisine. Its restaurants include Vietnamese eatery Pho Mai, Bober Tea and Mochi Dough Japanese donut shop, a restaurant called Hometaste that offers Hong Kong cuisine, Hot Pot City, Korean hot dog restaurant CrunCheese, the Dosirak Korean barbecue restaurant, bubble tea spot Uni Uni and Chinese restaurant Legendary Spice.

At the grocery store on the first floor, customers can find merchandise and produce, much of which is typically only found in Asian grocery stores. There is a live seafood section, including lobsters and crabs.

There are also businesses like a Western Union, hair salon and office space. There are still some empty spaces and not all of the restaurants were fully open Thursday.

The building, on Technology Drive near the interchange of Interstate 494 and Hwy. 212, formerly housed a store from the St. Paul-based Gander chain that closed in 2019.

Five investors, all with restaurant backgrounds and founders of the nonprofit Chinese American Chamber of Commerce MN, purchased the 116,000-square-foot building in January 2021 for $7.2 million. The group had to deal with delays in materials and products so some of the shelves are not as full yet, but the organizers ask customers for patience.

"I feel like we don't see much around in Eden Prairie [like this]," said Nani Meng, 19, who was at Asia Mall on Thursday with her boyfriend. "It's very convenient. You can shop right here and you can go out to eat."

Asia Mall hosted an invitation-only celebration on Wednesday complete with lion dancers. A grand opening event is planned for Nov. 20.

The parking lot at Asia Mall was nearly at capacity when it opened Thursday. While there are larger Asian grocery stories in other parts of the Twin Cities, Asia Mall's development is another sign of the region's diversifying food scene and rise of the food hall concept.

Nguyen is part of another project redeveloping the former Gordman's at the Burnsville Center mall into an Asian grocery store called Enson Market with a food hall. Construction is expected to be completed toward the end of next year.