THE north's largest Asian supermarket has opened in Belfast, representing a multi-million pound investment in the local economy.
The Pau family, originally from Hong Kong, have lived in Belfast for 33 years and for almost 30 of those have run the popular Asia Supermarket on Agincourt Avenue, off the Ormeau Road.
Now the business, headed by brothers Albert and Spencer Pau, has expanded into a new £5 million, purpose-built retail and warehouse complex on Ormeau Embankment, at the former site of Park Parade Secondary School.
The new larger supermarket, which features a first floor café and the separate storage and distribution centre, is housed on a four-acre site, and is a reaction to growing demand, both within the Asian community and beyond.
Speaking to The Irish News, store supervisor Louise Long, daughter of Spencer Pau, said the response since the October 17 opening has been "overwhelming".
"It has been brilliant so far, whether it's new customers coming in or old customers," she said.
"The new car park is 55 spaces, but we've had to open up our staff car parking to customers, because of the demand. We can't believe the response we've had."
"I was actually quite worried, because our shop on the Ormeau Road was so well-known and really loved and I was worried what kind of atmosphere we would have here, but it's been great.
"Everyone has commented that there is so much new stuff, but it's actually just the fact you can see it now, because it was so small over there. All we're going to do now is get bigger and better really by bringing in more things, because we have the room to do it and can cater for more people," she continued.
The new store and warehouse has created 10 jobs, the majority of which are within the supermarket's new café. It brings staff numbers
up to 70, many of whom have worked at the company for up to 25 years.
While a growing Asian community is driving both wholesale and retail business in Belfast, Ms Long has noticed an increased demand from other communities across the north, with travel a significant factor.
"You get loads of people coming back from travelling, who have tried all these new and exciting foods and generally we cater for everything that they're looking for," she said.
"Travel is so much more accessible now and people are going away more. Even TV shows - there's so many cooking shows and everyone's keen to try new things. And it's not just Asian food, it's worldwide food for everyone.
"We're trying our hardest to get as many different cultures in as we can, so we have more Korean food, more Japanese food, Mexican, we're trying to get a South American market, so all different things."
The new supermarket is a far cry from the scene of the Troubles, which greeted the Pau family when they first arrived in Belfast in 1985, but the city is now very much home, according to Oilun Pau, wife of Albert.
"I remember when I first came to Belfast you would hear explosions and when you went into the city centre it had barriers. I couldn't understand what it was for, but a lot has changed since then," she said.
Looking ahead the business expects to hire more staff in the near future as it settles into its new home and has not ruled out the prospect of further stores in the north.
"I haven't heard of any plans as yet, but you never know what could happen really," Ms Long added.
Work on the Ormeau Embankment development began in January last year and was carried out by Co Tyrone-based, QMAC Construction.
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