Inside the Yukon Asian Market on downtown’s Wood Street, owner Shirley Chua-Tan describes the shop as a “labour of love” that has already garnered affectionate support from the Whitehorse community.
As she speaks, customers wander in and out, stopping to say hi, chat and sometimes ask questions or inquire after a favourite product.
The shop opened in March, offering a wide variety of dinner options, goodies and products from places like Singapore (where Chua-Tan is originally from), the Philippines, Japan, China, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and others as well as local fare from the likes of Takinini River Ranch, Klondike Kettle Corn and more.
As Chua-Tan explained, the idea for the store came about last year as many were feeling the impacts of travel restrictions due to COVID-19. Many Yukoners originally from Asian countries stock up on their favourite food and products when they travel, bringing them back to Whitehorse. The pandemic meant that was no longer an option as it had once been.
“We wanted to do something for the community,” she said, crediting the support the Whitehorse community has provided her family over the years, particularly for her son Ernest, a well-known and accomplished Special Olympics athlete.
“This town has given us so much.”
With that, the family began working towards opening the market and learning everything they could about running a shop, with many they spoke to excited by the idea.
Chua-Tan said it’s her husband Eng Khoon Chua who usually does the grocery shopping for their household so it’s taken some work to familiarize herself with pricing.
That said, there is great effort into keeping the prices affordable for Yukoners while also providing many products they would otherwise have to go Outside for.
“We try to make it affordable and fresh,” Chua-Tan said, noting the store works with some great suppliers who have helped her determine not only what products to bring in but also what quantities to start with.
Aisles in the store are divided by country, making it easier to find for those who might have a favourite treat or product from their home country or somewhere they’ve visited. Friends from various countries also help in determining what to stock, she said.
A section for vegan goods is also there, with Chua-Tan highlighting options for those choosing a vegan diet or those who might have allergies to things like shellfish. While she’s not a vegan herself, operating the store has meant trying out some new fare and she’s discovered many comparable vegan options to seafood and meat.
As Chua-Tan said, the store offerings come from what Yukoners are asking for. Since before it opened, the Yukon Asian Market has published social media postings asking what potential customers want to see from the store. That’s exactly how The Philippine Reporter (including one edition featuring Whitehorse city councillor Jocelyn Curteanu) made its way to the store’s counter. The twice-monthly newspaper published in Toronto is focused on “news that matters to Filipino Canadians,” according to its masthead.
Frozen octopus is also in stock, because of a customer’s request.
Noodles, snacks, drinks and sauces line the shelves with freezers and fridges full of meat, fish and vegan alternatives to meat, sweet buns and desserts like mochi.
Along with the many food options are products like chopsticks, bamboo steamers and a variety of candy and cookie molds Chua-Tan recently ordered in, thinking of families who might be looking for ways to keep their kids busy in the kitchen.
Of course, Chua-Tan also has her own favourites she makes sure to stock.
“I love dim sum,” she said, highlighting a number of easy-to-make dinner options.
As she pointed out, like many people she is busy and it’s important to have options that are quick and easy to get ready.
Frozen dumplings just need to be steamed and she particularly likes the prepared chickens that just need to be heated in the oven.
There’s also a variety of noodles available at the store, which she described as “comfort food” for many.
Three full-time staffers, along with Chua-Tan and her family, work at the Yukon Asian Market.
For those who want to try some new dishes or are looking for dinner ideas, Chua-Tan said staff are more than happy to share ideas. Indeed, as customers came into the store, Chua-Tan paused and talked products, answering questions customers brought to her.
While the store is enjoying a successful first month in business, its opening was not without a couple of glitches. It was only after a fridge came in that it was realized a different adapter would be needed. Thankfully a local electrician stepped up to help out. Similarly, when they ordered a little too much stock initially, a local restaurant shared its freezer space until they had more room.
“Everybody is just gladly helping,” she said.
As the store heads into its first summer in business, a lunch counter is planned that will feature prepared steam buns, shu-mai, sticky rice and har gow. Chua-Tan said the store is just waiting for the health inspection for it to be up and running.
“I don’t think this is just a store,” she said, describing it as a place for the community and noting it has been “one of the best places” for her son to hang out, given the sense of community that’s there.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org