Second central Ohio location will be in former Kohl's store

The second central Ohio location of an uncommon ethnic-food superstore is set to open later this year on South Hamilton Road in east Columbus, just south of Whitehall.

Saraga International Grocery, 1265 Morse Road, opened in 2013 in a former Toys R Us store in north Columbus as its first central Ohio site, owner John Sung said.

The first Saraga International Grocery opened in 2005 in Indianapolis, followed by a second store in Indiana's capital city.

Sung, 54, came to the United States from South Korea in 1989.

In 1994, he opened a restaurant in Bloomington, Indiana, home to Indiana University, before founding Saraga International Grocery.

"I want to bring the things that they miss from their hometowns," Sung said about the produce, vegetables, meats, canned goods, beverages and even kitchen appliances and cutlery available at Saraga International Grocery.

The grocery near Whitehall would open in a 100,000-square-foot former Kohl’s store at 2750 S. Hamilton Road, just south of Interstate 70 and across from Eastland Mall, Sung said.

Sung could not say how soon the store might open but said he hopes it is within the next three months.

“I’ve been working three years to get it open,” said Sung, adding he has experienced some difficulty in obtaining all the required permits through the city of Columbus.

The site has been issued a permit for installation of a fire-suppression system but must address additional corrections for the issuance of permits for generators and the building’s HVAC system, said Tony Celebrezze, assistant director of building and zoning services for Columbus.

Sung said he is considering opening a third store on Cleveland Avenue near Innis Road and the Northern Lights Shopping Center in Columbus.

If the customers at the Morse Road store are an accurate representation of Saraga’s customer base, the new store will draw customers from destinations beyond Whitehall.

Louie Louden, 64, and his wife, Luisita, drove two hours Jan. 11 from Kanauga, a village nestled on a bend of the Ohio River, upriver from Gallipolis.

“We drive up here (about every three months) just to go this store,” said Louden, whose wife is from the Philippines.

Although a village of only several hundred people, Kanauga has a Filipino neighborhood; Louden met his future wife in the town while she was visiting her relatives there.

She came to the Ohio River village seven years ago.

A small Filipino grocery store is in Charleston, West Virginia, Louden said, but it does not compare to the selection and variety at Saraga.

He and his wife’s selections in their most recent trip included fresh salmon.

They were among the customers who lined up at the store’s fresh-fish counter, which features tanks of live catfish.

Workers weigh, carve and clean the fish to the customer’s specifications.

The store’s aisles are separated by continent and region, with rows for Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, African, European and American cuisines.

Several small restaurants and cafes are tucked into the store, including Momo Ghar, which specializes in Nepalese dumplings. The tiny enclave has garnered stellar online ratings; a second location opened at the North Market last year.

The opening of the South Hamilton Road store will mean less travel for Lea Maokhamphiou, who with her mother, brother and sister-in-law traveled to the store Jan. 11 from their home in east Columbus.

“It’s the biggest Asian market in Columbus,” said Maokhamphiou, who came to the United States from Laos in 1983.

Among the family’s purchases were a variety of native fruits and vegetables.

“I hope they open (the store on South Hamilton Road),” Maokhamphiou said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo