A unique business collaboration in West Valley City

by PHI TRAN

West Valley City is fast becoming one of the most ethnically enriched communities in Utah. With the number of different cultures and their businesses increasing in the city, some may think it will cause some competition between the communities. But the opposite has actually occurred at 1824 W. 3500 South. Tenochtitlan Market, a Hispanic grocery store, and Super Saigon Oriental Market, are a perfect example of this collaboration.

Tenochtitlan and Super Saigon have been doing business in the same plaza for more than seven years. Many people say the association between these two businesses is unique, because it does not exist in many other cities. The Hispanic and Asian markets in other places are usually not found in the same plaza.

Acela Ceja, the office manager and president assistant of Tenochtitlan, said there is no competition between the two markets. In fact, they work together to provide the best service for all the customers who come to this plaza. She also believes it is very convenient for customers to have these two markets so close to one another.         

Mayor Dennis Nordfelt of West Valley City believes that although the situation was unplanned, it has evolved into a positive business collaboration. “It demonstrates that these two communities can get along and benefit from each other,” Nordfelt said.

He also said in other cities various cultures seem to be separated into different parts of the neighborhood. For instance, Hispanics are clustered in one area of the city, while Asians are located in another. However, ethnicity is disbursed all over West Valley City.

“I see Utah as a state and West Valley City in particular, as very welcoming to all ethnic minorities,” Nordfelt said.

Furthermore, the plaza creates a richer community, said Pamela S. Perlich, the senior research economist of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah. Having these types of businesses in the same area means there are more points of view and many more ideas and cultures, which ties the city to the rest of the world and create a more cosmopolitan community, she said.

In addition, Perlich said Utah has attracted a lot of business talent from all over the world and the concentration of people from so many diverse places into one area has never been seen before. Although there are those out there that assume there are just too many differences between the two cultures for it to work, Perlich believes otherwise. “Sometimes differences in opinion and differences in ideas can bring a new synthesis of doing things and that is one of the benefits this community brings to Utah,” she said.

According to the demographic census data done in 2000 by Perlich, of Utah’s 2.2 million population 238,667 was made up of Hispanics and Asians, and she presumes that their numbers have been steadily increasing over the last eight years, although the exact numbers will not be known until the 2010 census. The growth of the Hispanic and Asian population created the need for the Tenochtitlan and Super Saigon markets, therein creating the unwitting collaboration.

Perlich also mentioned that Utah has been plugged into the internationalization of markets. She referred to the theory “Internationalization is our best hope for world peace,” from Thomas L. Friedman’s “The World is Flat.” These two markets are a great example of this theory being applied to the actual economy.

Mayor Nordfelt agrees with this theory as well and said history itself proves it. He talked about how in the past people marginalized Hispanics and Asians because they were so different. And although it still happens, it is less frequent in West Valley because of the increase in their populations. “As their numbers have grown it just seems like we have been able to take the best from the minority cultures and the majority culture and put those all together for a new culture,” he said.

Moreover, customers have indicated that this association has created a better understanding between the two communities. Muoi Ha, 55, a resident of West Valley City for 24 years and a longtime customer of Super Saigon, said she has seen a difference in the way people interact with each other. “I’ve been shopping in this area for over 10 years and I notice that people are nicer and respect each other more,” Ha said.

She also said an area such as this did not exist before; people of different cultural backgrounds shopped in their own areas. Ha gave said when she and her family came from Vietnam to Utah in 1980, they sought out markets in Asian areas of Salt Lake City, because it was a comfort and language issue as well as a convenience factor. She did not want to have to travel to so many different markets and be around so many different people.

Yet, she said when these businesses opened in the same plaza things began to change. After a few years, the comfort and language issues were not as apparent as before. She said even though the people who did business as well as shopped in the plaza did not speak the same language it did not stop them from working together and being friendly to each other. Ha said it gave her a different perspective on things.

“It’s been a really good learning experience for me and my family,” Ha said. She also said it is very convenient, because if they needed to get something from both the Asian and Hispanic stores, they would only have to drive to one location. Ha said when they were finished shopping at one market, they would only have to walk next door to the other market and could finish all their shopping in one stop.

Super Saigon Oriental Market is located on the west side of the plaza.  Inside the market, people can find freshly roasted ducks and pigs, and deli sliced and prepared meats for Asian entrees like pho, a popular Vietnamese noodle dish. Desserts like che, a Vietnamese version of pudding using either coconut milk, different kinds of beans, tapioca, sweet rice and/or various types of fruit and a bountiful variety of Asian snacks from shrimp chips to durian crème wafers can also be found in the market.

On the east side of the plaza is the Tenochtitlan Market, inside people will find a deli and bakery where customers can buy flan and tres leches cake, which literally translates as, “cake of three milks.” It is made out of three different kinds of milk: evaporated milk, condensed milk and either whole milk or cream. People can also find a variety of different Hispanic drinks and snacks. Also, to provide convenience for customers, service centers located in the store such as Sprint and Cricket.

Nevertheless, people cannot really capture the true vision of this unique association until they see it for themselves and experience the diversity that is the Super Saigon and Tenochtitlan collaboration.