The Phams may not have realized it when they made their shopping plans Tuesday morning, but they are the target customers of South Bay’s all-new retail experience.
Wife An wanted to visit 99 Ranch Market’s first ever store located in a mega mall, Westfield Oakridge, in South San Jose. The hot weather got her husband, Binh, thinking about outdoor cooking and grilling.
“My wife came to shop and I found out they had the Daiso store here,” he said.
So, as she braved the crowds inside 99 Ranch, he headed to the mall — there’s a huge entrance near the eight grocery checkouts — to get some groceries. He returned to the store, barbecue grills under his arm, to find her and return home to Milpitas.
They were among hundreds of shoppers who headed to the Blossom Hill Road mall on Tuesday for the opening of the new 99 Ranch Market store – in a setting that company officials say will have wider appeal than a specialized shopping centre. It’s 18th in the Bay Area and 56th overall for the nation’s largest Asian grocery chain, founded in 1984 in Orange County.
Like Macy’s and Target and the Century Theatres, this Oakridge store will serve as the anchor for the massive center. Beyond that, this “new concept” store is being watched closely as an innovative retail experience as US malls seek to fill vacant storefronts.
“It could be a game-changer,” said Teddy Chow, NorCal vice president for 99 Ranch. “It’s more of a food destination than a grocery store.”
Several quick-service counters serve dim sum, steamed pork chops, sautéed shrimp, noodles, the chain’s popular Taiwanese burritos and more. Fish and seafood counters steam or sauté customers’ purchases for free. Soon, a sashimi counter – a first for 99 Ranch – will open in this store.
Shoppers can shop for hot deli and baked goods either inside the store or from service counters inside Oakridge. Curbside grocery pickup is also offered from the store location on the northwest, or Thornwood side, of the mall.
Many in Tuesday’s crowd were longtime fans who were thrilled to have a location at 99 Ranch closer to their home in San Jose.
“It’s bike distance,” said Jim Banks, who looked forward to “coming soon” signs here during the year-long build. “I like to have my crab and lobster alive. Now this will be the closest place.
Linda Ng, who bought a live tilapia at the seafood counter, a beef shank, vegetables and an assortment of other groceries, said: “Before, we had to go to Cupertino. It’s a good difference for me.
Almaden-area residents Brenda and Ben Mandac said they enjoyed what he called the store’s “eclectic” selection, filling their basket with a range including Filipino sausages, dark soy sauce from Japan and Hong Kong-style frozen chashu rolls.
“But that’s the dangerous part,” Brenda said, pointing to the bakery, where they grabbed a loaf of their favorite coconut toast, from among stalls that also featured birthday cakes, tiramisu and cheesecake.
Some customers took advantage of the location to stroll or wheel strollers through Oakridge after shopping, buy coffee at the nearby Andersen Bakery & Cafe stand, or eat their 99 Ranch takeout at tables inside the mall .
“It’s like street food in Taipei!” said a customer who was sharing grilled skewers and calamari with his wife. He declined to give his name because, he laughs, “My clients might not be happy that I took a long lunch break from Oakland.”
Chow said 99 Ranch hopes to attract customers from across the Bay Area by offering cooking demonstrations and the latest product discoveries. Stores can also bring back a series of cooking classes for kids.
Some of the buyers had never been to a 99 ranch and were amazed by the range of imported specialty foods, fresh produce, fish and hot meals.
San Jose resident Jill Borders and her daughter Annie had a mission: “We’re here to buy some fabulous plum sauce,” Jill said.
While dining at a local pho place, she explained, they had asked if they could buy some of the condiment for the house, only to have the waitress lean over and whisper, “We’re buying it. at 99 Ranch.”
They remembered that advice and went online early – as customer #202.
“We didn’t get a goodie bag” – it was for the first 200 customers – “but we get our plum sauce” and found a recipe to try. “Were excited!”
Details: The 99 Ranch festivities continue at 9 a.m. Saturday, with a grand opening featuring an appearance by “Top Chef” winner Melissa King and goodie bags for the first 200 customers in line. Store hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, with an 8 a.m. opening on Tuesdays for seniors. The mall is located at 925 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, but the grocery store entrance is on Thornwood Drive on the northwest side of the mall. www.99ranch.com