Meet the new store, same as the old store.
Asian Food Markets, a long-time tenant in the Princeton Meadows Shopping Center on Plainsboro Road, will be moving to the spot most recently occupied by the failed SuperFresh store in Plainsboro Plaza on Schalks Crossing Road.
Onyx Equities, the owner of Plainsboro Plaza, last month announced a lease with Asian Food Markets to become the property’s anchor tenant by leasing the 43,152-square-foot space. Onyx said the store is expected to open in the next few months
Mayor Peter Cantu said that the current plan is for the market to expand into twice the space as its current location and to conduct a total renovation of the store’s interior.
“They’re ripping it down to the walls,” Cantu said, adding that he hopes that in addition to Asian goods the market also sells “some Western products.”
“They are primarily an Asian market, but I hope they’ll try to provide a balance as far as the offerings are concerned.”
Cantu added that the store is also planning to offer small prepared food stations within the store for people who want to stop and get something to eat.
The mayor lauded the store and believes it will be successful in its new spot. “They run a good operation. I don’t shop there frequently, but my wife goes in there and she’s a pretty picky shopper. She says they have very nice produce, and it’s reasonably priced.”
Town officials are hoping that the store fares better than the previous tenant, SuperFresh, which opened in March 2018 and was closed by October.
The SuperFresh was long awaited—residents had been hoping for new supermarket in the location since the previous supermarket—also a SuperFresh—closed in Plainsboro Plaza in 2013.
The store, which was owned and operated by Kevin Kim, a Bergen County resident who had several other supermarkets, was part of the Key Food Store Cooperative, a national chain.
Cantu says he believes it was a combination of poor management and the mismanagement of expectations in the community that led to the demise of the SuperFresh.
“It wasn’t really a SuperFresh,” Cantu said. “It flew the SuperFresh flag, but it was owned a Korean gentleman (Kim) who had six or seven food markets. Key Foods bought the SuperFresh flag when A&P went under (the store was originally going to be a Food Emporium when it was first announced).
“As I recall, Key Foods had three or four different brands that they have stores under. He (Kim) was a franchise holder with Key Foods, and I’m not sure whether it was a dictated or negotiated situation as to what flag the store would fly.”
Cantu said that Kim agreed when the township encouraged him to provide “a market that was not totally Asian, but also catered to the demographics of the entire community.
“Unfortunately I think that got lost somewhere along the way,” Cantu said.
He added that he believes that the store set certain expectations in the community and then didn’t fulfill them.
“It was disappointing to a lot of people in Plainsboro who were looking for opportunities to replace the supermarket that had formerly been there,” the mayor said.
He adds that the store started off on a bad foot. “He (Kim) put up a big banner before the store opened opened that said, ‘Coming soon: Asian food market.’ That wasn’t what the advertised intention was supposed to be.”
That wasn’t the only problem. The store wasn’t particularly well run, Cantu said, adding that he wasn’t impressed by the management of the store.
“I think he had problems that were beyond Plainsboro in some of his other facilities as well,” Cantu said. “They clearly had issues, and seeing how they left the store, I don’t think it was well-managed.
“We had been very hopeful. We wanted to see it succeed obviously, because it’s piece of that center, and it’s important to us that that space to be occupied.”
Online reviews of the location back up Cantu’s assertions. There are a number of comments panning the store both for not being like other SuperFresh markets and also for poor conditions.
“SuperFresh is neither super nor fresh,” reads an Aug. 28 post on Yelp by Bert M. “Although the store has been open only since the beginning of 2018, it feels and looks like it hasn’t been updated in a decade. As soon as you walk in, there is a bad smell hitting you.
“Most freezers are leaking with puddles of water on the floor, and many frozen items are layered in frostbite… It is not hard to find expired food items still on the shelves. Such a shame that after 5 years of waiting for a supermarket, this is what Plainsboro residents eventually got.”
In a post on Yelp last April, user S.H. said, “I had assumed it would be similar to the old Super Fresh and have a variety of foods similar to Shoprite, however this place not only had many expired foods on the shelves (by weeks, not a few days) but also the selection of fruit and vegetables were mainly spoiled… the Plainsboro area already has Indian and Asian supermarkets, so a more mainstream supermarket would have done better to house more variety of products. However, from my experience, walking into a SuperFresh surrounded by Asian style foods was not what the Plainsboro community really needed.”
In the Facebook group Plainsboro Needs a Supermarket, there are a number of complaints about the supermarket in addition photos of frozen over merchandise and moldy food.
“I am so glad it’s closing,” said Linda D’Angelo Kurtz in a post in the group last October. “It’s a smelly, disgusting dirty store. Plainsboro is better off with nothing. I don’t know how it opened in the first place, it stunk from the first day. I was excited, finally a store, and then I went one time and never again.”
* * *
According to a news release, Asian Food Markets was founded in 1992 with a single location in Edison, and has expanded throughout New Jersey. The company currently operates four other locations—Jersey City, North Plainfield, Piscataway and Marlboro. The Plainsboro location has been open since the early 2000s.
“The chain is currently looking for additional sites in northern New Jersey and New York City areas with a high concentration of Eastern and Central Asian residents, said Pete Nicholson of R.J. Brunelli, which brokered the Plainsboro Plaza transaction on behalf of Asian Food Markets.
Meanwhile, the future is still unknown as far as the 20,000-square-foot vacancy the Asian Market is leaving in the Princeton Meadows Shopping Center.
“I think they’ll do okay leasing that space,” Cantu said. That shopping center seems to do okay. There’s a number of different businesses there, including a bagel shop, pharmacy, pizzeria and a liquor store. I think all retail has struggled a little bit over the past few year, but we seem to be holding our own.”