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It is often said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. If so, then Super King certainly has their sights set firmly on every man's heart with its dizzying array of ethnic foods from all corners of the globe.
"We like to see a variety of ethnicities, we think that with more variety comes more people who will talk to each other about the fun things they find here," says Daniel Barth, general manager for the family-owned supermarket.
There certainly were a lot of fun things to be found in the 42,000 square-feet Super King along San Fernando Road, a former Ralphs complex retrofitted to suit a diverse market.
After negotiating the busy parking lot (itself a sign of the grocery's popularity), I was greeted by stacks of canned goods--the kind that never get much airplay in the Ralphs, Gelsons and Whole Foods of this world. Rows and rows of condensed milk, vegetable seasoning and corn bits sat on display boasting sale prices. On my right was an astounding array of nuts selections that I think Whole Foods would be hard pressed to beat. Unlike the measly spice sections of other markets, one aisle was almost dominated by the selection of dried herbs. Bundles announced: Aleppo peppers extra hot, cardamom green, even dried corn husks. Familiar logos sat alongside more exotic brands in foreign languages, which I couldn't even hope to read.
It wasn't just the products that held me in thrall, it was also the noise and bustle during my mid-afternoon grocery run. Pretending to peruse the spice section, I stopped to listen to those around me. In the space of just a few minutes, I heard snippets of Russian, Filipino, and Spanish. Those are the just the one's I could make out. Super King's products are impressively diverse, so to is its clientele--a monumental feat in my book.
Mankind has often dreamed of equality, peaceful co-existence and harmony. Its most famous incarnation could very well be Star Trek's United Federation of Planets, a conglomeration of planetary governments united on principles of universal liberty, rights and equality. Unfortunately, the Federation is merely a construct. Reality has given us close approximations, megalopolises that host a multitude of ethnicities like Los Angeles, but so far none have come close to the ideal of peaceful co-existence where cultural lines are completely obliterated.
Multiculturalism in reality often comes with cultural silos--a spot of Asian here, an enclave of European there, a dollop of pure American here. One hardly ever sees cultures mixing so freely and effortlessly, with no perceptible bias for one particular culture.
Whether brought together by good value (Super King's price points decidedly gear toward the affordable) or by a wealth of selection, the grocery chain somehow blends cultures without the self-congratulatory fanfare such endeavors come with. Its grain aisle blithely stacks Jasmine rice, roasted buckwheat, basmati rice, and split pea lentils. Its alcohol section boasts Armenian brandy, Russian vodka and Tres Generaciones Reposado Tequila.
The grocery's dedication to variety, and its successful implementation of it on their shelves, have won them a loyal fan base, some that drive as far as 20 miles. "Our average trip is much longer, which we've figured out from ZIP code studies," says Barth. Customers go the extra mile for Super King, it seems, but now they might not have to. Super King opened branches in Northridge and Van Nuys in the past two years. Aside from that, San Fernando Valley's population density could comfortably support a grocery such as Super King.
Apart from giving a larger community a place to find familiar foods, Super King also provides locals full-time employment. "We employ over 200 people at the store, which is absolutely outrageous for a more typical supermarket. Most of them full-time, from the community and eligible for medical benefits."
Its staff reflects the grocery's own ideals of diversity, which Barth believes helps break down barriers. He ascribes to the famed Mark Twain quote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." It costs far less to push a cart down Super King's aisles, but the effect is still the same. "It's really fun to shop with all these different people in our stores," says Barth, "You push your cart through the aisles alongside them and you think, 'Hey, wait a minute, these are people who buy food, cook for their families, and have husbands, wives and children of their own.' The implicit message here is that people--no matter where they're from--are just people." And they all bump into each other along the aisles of this neighborhood grocery.