After five years without a traditional grocer, Plainsboro residents on Feb. 24 finally saw the grand opening of a new supermarket in town—SuperFresh in the Plainsboro Plaza Shopping Center.
Despite the dreary morning drizzle, the mood inside the SuperFresh was sunny with excitement. Even the ribbon-cutting ceremony drew a crowd — Mayor Peter Cantu and his wife, Gail, along with store owner Kevin Kim and supermarket executives smiled for the cameras behind mounds of strawberries (priced at 99 cents a carton) and purple grapes.
“I look Korean, but this is an American supermarket,” Kim said. “But since I came from an Asian country, we have a lot of additional Asian items.”
Kim, who lives in Bergen County, is the owner of this new grocery store, running under the national chain Key Food Store Cooperative. The 40,000-square-foot SuperFresh is the 265th affiliated grocer within the Key Food chain, according to corporate executive Sharon Konzelman.
Though it shares the same name as the SuperFresh that closed years ago in the shopping center, most of the shelves look quite different. Kim’s store has Korean flair—similar to the Korean-owned Woo-Ri Mart in West Windsor, only twice as large. It offers more American groceries, like a stocked deli selling kale and quinoa salad by the pound, a fridge devoted to fresh pasta and half an aisle lined with Bob’s Red Mill products.
Whether this is enough of a selection, or if the pricing of the non-Asian items is competitive with nearby stores like McCaffrey’s or Wegmans in West Windsor, remains up for debate.
The Facebook page, “Plainsboro Needs a Supermarket,” that might’ve been put to rest after SuperFresh reopened is still active. Comments on the page include complaints about the overpricing of “Western” items like, organic milk and dishwasher soap to smells wafting from the fish section. Others say the store would better serve residents if it offered more American food items, reflecting a “50/50” split.
It’s true, the selection of nut butters on opening day only includes peanut, lacking alternatives like almond or sunbutter, though a nearby aisle features six models of rice cookers.
There is an entire aisle devoted to Korean snacks—Choco-Pies (similar to the classic Moonpie) and banana puffs. And the seafood case holds a variety of fish, including familiar choices like salmon steaks and cod fillets.
Gail Cantu said she’ was particularly impressed by the seafood section and is excited to try new recipes. “I’m already sending pictures [of the store] to people,” she said. “I’m in awe of it.”
Mayor Cantu sampled a griddled sausage link. “I’m having my lunch here,” he joked.
Other samples include dumplings and Indomie instant noodles. “They managed to combine both Asian and American foods here, and I think successfully. I think it’s going to be a big attraction for the community and the area, frankly,” Cantu said.
For some residents, this new SuperFresh is both an opportunity and a compromise given the town’s demographic; a 2016 U.S. Census survey estimates that 50 percent of the township identifies as Asian.
And at the grand opening, the reactions from customers initially skeptical of the new SuperFresh, were generally positive.
“You know what, I was hesitant. I had no idea what it was going to be like, but I like it,” said Joe Lemkin, a Plainsboro resident for 15 years. “It definitely has a heavy Asian flavor, but it’s appropriate for the population, and there’s enough for everyone. It looks like there’s a good variety.”
But one thing the store lacks, he said, is a wide selection of kosher items, though he called the produce and seafood selection “outrageous.”
Bhagvati Suthar, a Plainsboro resident for 40 years, praised the immense size of the store and the building’s renovations compared to the old SuperFresh. “I need a SuperFresh card,” she said. “It’s bigger and fresher [than the old one].”
Eila Mackenzie of Plainsboro Township rolls her cart through the frozen foods aisle, “flabbergasted” as someone who loves Japanese, Chinese and Thai food.
“I had no idea it was going to be this large,” she said, “It’s closer than McCaffrey’s. It has such a wide variety, particularly the Asian foods, and it’s so much more convenient.”
Vivian Tsu of West Windsor compared the store to H-Mart, another large Korean grocery chain with the closest locations in Edison and Levittown, Pennsylvania. “I might do my weekly shopping here,” she said.