"Welcome to Asia Food Company, located inside of Cleveland’s Asian Town Center, a sprawling retail and community space on the corner of Superior Avenue and E 38th Street, Asia Food Co. has been in business for a quarter of a century. The modest market is a testament to the feeling that you don't have to leave Cleveland to feel as if you’re traveling the world.
The first thing you notice immediately after clearing the entryway, are the colors.
Brilliant pinks, reds, yellows, and greens invite the eyes to meet aisles of imported products from all over Asia. I find myself picking up jars of anchovies, preserved duck eggs, candy sticks with unrecognizable flavors, adorned with illustrations of characters that intrigue me, unlike anything I’d been familiarized with in childhood while roving the cereal aisle."
Live. Dream. Create: it seems like an easy mantra to abide by but as adults it’s easy to overlook the magic of using your imagination. Krystal Tomlinson hasn’t forgotten how to do it, in fact, her felt and polyfil stuffed food and animal toys encourage customers to play just like they did when they were kids.
“Some of the adults think that they’re so cute and they want to get one, but they don’t know what to do with it,” Tomlinson says. Don’t worry—she assures me that they make great desktop trinkets for your cubicle. Besides boosting play and alleviating stress, the toys are highly stylized to look aesthetically pleasing in just about any space (think Claes Oldenburg without the vinyl or towering scales on Etsy).
“Children will run up and immediately know what things are. Even toddlers have wobbled over and said ‘Sushi!’ Their parents look at them and say ‘You’ve never had sushi in your life! How do you know that’s what it is?’” remarks Tomlinson. “A lot of my foodstuff I try to get it as realistic as I can. Sometimes it’s hard to recreate the colors with felt, but I try to make things that are more unusual to find.”
"This is Koko Bakery’s second year at Night Market. They will be offering selections of buns, desserts, bubble tea, and shaved ice. The bubble teas, served with chewy tapioca balls, will be available in popular flavors including honeydew, Thai tea, watermelon, lychee, and passion fruit. They will also be offering four different selections of shaved ice with toppings including fresh fruit — strawberry, kiwi, mango, and a Korean favorite, sweet beans or fruit jellies, and if you’re feeling adventurous, a shaved ice containing red bean, green bean, and peanut.
When it comes to sweet versus savory flavors, Koko Bakery doesn’t discriminate; they embrace the best of both worlds. The bakery offers a wide variety of sweet and savory steamed buns, many of which are vegetarian friendly and always baked fresh daily. The filling includes, strawberry and lemon jam, pork, cabbage, green vegetable, chicken, red bean, taro, and many others."
"He would buy some of the best clay in the world in Shigaraki—wet, with red hues, light and dark, earthy textures—the oldest pottery village in Japan, one that produced roof shingles for Emperor Shomu in the 8th century A.D. Yasu’s culture was gold for Richards’ developing muse. The hobby eventually became his life’s work. He ended up staying for 18 years. In 2007, Richards moved back."
"Siriphan Wongpeng, or Kiwi as she’s known, moved to the United States from Bangkok, Thailand in 2000 with her family; “My family came from Thailand because they wanted my little brother and I to have better opportunity in life.” Her mom, who cooks all the food at Thai Thai, is the only one who knows exactly how to make the dishes on the menu. “If she’s sick, we close. She’s the only one who knows how to make these. She knows the exact amount of spices and ingredients,” she says, holding her mother’s love of the menu in high regard. “This is what we eat.”
By Brandi McElhatten Photographs by Breanna Kulkin
"Larry Collins has a serious case of wanderlust.
It’s a good thing he also has a penchant for treasure hunting and a discerning eye to go with it. Collins has a lot of stories to tell about his travels; all you have to do is get him to stay still long enough to tell you them. He’s a man on the move with a passion for sharing his experiences, so much so that Collins wishes he could take our Night Market organizers with him on his Far East excursions and show us around. In lieu of that, while we save up for the trip, he’ll be joining us at Night Market Cleveland this June as a first-time vendor."
Approaching Flower City Gift Shop’s glowing red tent at any Night Market Cleveland has to be one of the most magical moments of the evening. What seem like a hundred little gold paws wave in and out of unison, beckoning you to take a closer look at what the vendor has to offer. The cat figurines are a big seller: who can resist such tiny sly faces, their eyes darting back and forth?
Danny Zhang’s parents established Flower City Gift Shop in 1994 inside of Asia Plaza, making it one of the oldest operating businesses in the building. After emigrating from China and living in New York City where Danny’s father sold fruit on Canal Street in Chinatown, relatives and friends convinced the family to move to Cleveland where there were opportunities for Asian entrepreneurs in a bourgeoning Chinatown district. They were the last shop to receive a storefront in the newly renovated plaza over a decade ago.
“Reach across the isle and shake hands with the maker,” says Anthony Barchanowicz of BARR’s Bars, a delightful play-on-name for a Cleveland based soap-making company. If you purchase any of their products, made by hand the way that pioneers from the region did it, there is no need to question the cleanliness of the palm reaching out to greet you.
BARR’s Bars prune their garden's harvest; they stick-stir each of their crafted cold process soaps and pour molds of soap to cure. All of their products are comprised of high-standard, beneficial ingredients. Their product is similar to the Mrs. Meyer’s pump-soaps that permeate Target, but did you know that you could get artisanal hand wash made in your hometown?
In just a year, Devon and Nicole have reinvented the storefront located at 6419 St. Clair Ave. into a summer camp arts & crafts classroom meets crafter’s junk shop/art supply store paradise. The shop acts as a creative reuse center for the community, specializing in the resale of used residential and industrial items that have fulfilled their original purpose. They also host workshops, classes, and open crafting hours at the store for customers who need a hand or a sturdy workbench to complete a project.
“It’s about suspending expectations,” McGee says about “upcycling”, or the practice of transforming a leftover material into something of increased value. “If you try to over control it, it doesn’t turn out the way you want,” she says, coiling pieces of a plastic soda bottle around her fingers. “If you sort of let it go, I like to think that materials tell us what they want to be.”
Tucked away on the second floor of an industrial-turned-creative warehouse on Superior Avenue, Rachel DuFresne, creator of Earth Philosophy, welcomes me at the door. Inside, glass jars of dried lavender, pomegranate, and cayenne peppers line the walls. DuFresne invites me to have a seat at her desk, where late afternoon sunlight falls from the ceiling. "I grew up in Erie County collecting plants with my mom, " says Dufresne. "She always had us outside in the Metroparks and nature preserves." As a former student of botany at the Ohio State University, DuFresne was introduced to Ethnobotany - the relationship between plants and people - and began seeking out plant identification books on her own. "That's how I spent my summers," says DuFresne. "I did a lot of Ethnobotany, and I really [came to understand] how some societies sustain themselves on plants and nature."