At the H Mart on Broadway at 110th Street in Manhattan, the lights are bright on the singo pears, round as apples and kept snug in white mesh, so their skin won’t bruise. Here are radishes in hot pink and winter white, gnarled ginseng grown in Wisconsin, broad perilla leaves with notched edges, and almost every kind of Asian green: yu choy, bok choy, ong choy, hon choy, aa choy, wawa choy, gai lan, sook got.
The theme is abundance — chiles from fat little thumbs to witchy fingers, bulk bins of fish balls, live lobsters brooding in blue tanks, a library of tofu. Cuckoo rice cookers gleam from the shelves like a showroom of Aston Martins. Customers fill baskets with wands of lemongrass, dried silvery anchovies, shrimp chips and Wagyu beef sliced into delicate petals.
For decades in America, this kind of shopping was a pilgrimage. Asian-Americans couldn’t just pop into the local Kroger or Piggly Wiggly for a bottle of fish sauce. To make the foods of their heritage, they often had to seek out the lone Asian grocery in town, which was salvation — even if cramped and dingy, with scuffed linoleum underfoot and bags of rice slumped in a corner.
1.5 percent of the American population was of Asian descent.
beaten to death in Detroit by two white autoworkers who were reportedly angered by the success of the Japanese car industry. Asian-Americans, a disparate group of many origins that had historically not been recognized as a political force, came together to condemn the killing and speak in a collective voice.
Today, as they again confront hate-fueled violence, Asian-Americans are the nation’s fastest-growing racial or ethnic group, numbering more than 22 million, nearly 7 percent of the total population. And there are 102 H Marts across the land, with vast refrigerated cases devoted to kimchi and banchan, the side dishes essential to any Korean meal. In 2020, the company reported $1.5 billion in sales. Later this year, it’s set to open its largest outpost yet, in a space in Orlando, Fla., that is nearly the size of four football fields.
And H Mart has competition: Other grocery chains that specialize in ingredients from Asia include Patel Brothers (Patel Bros, to fans), founded in Chicago; and, headquartered in California, Mitsuwa Marketplace and 99 Ranch Market — or Ranch 99, as Chinese speakers sometimes call it. They’re part of a so-called ethnic or international supermarket sector estimated to be worth $46.1 billion, a small but growing percentage of the more than $653 billion American grocery industry.
Japanese Breakfast, in her new memoir, “Crying in H Mart,” published last month. The book begins with her standing in front of the banchan refrigerators, mourning the death of her Korean-born mother. “We’re all searching for a piece of home, or a piece of ourselves.”
As the 20th-century philosopher Lin Yutang wrote, “What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?”
For an immigrant, cooking can be a way to anchor yourself in a world suddenly askew. There is no end to the lengths some might go to taste once more that birthday spoonful of Korean miyeok guk, a soup dense with seaweed, slippery on the tongue, or the faintly bitter undertow of beef bile in Laotian laap diip (raw beef salad).
When Vilailuck Teigen — the co-author, with Garrett Snyder, of “The Pepper Thai Cookbook,” out in April — was a young mother in western Utah in the 1980s, she ordered 50-pound bags of rice by mail and drove 150 miles to Salt Lake City to buy chiles. She had no mortar and pestle, so she crushed spices with the bottom of a fish-sauce bottle.
Snackboxe Bistro in Atlanta, was a child in a small town in east-central Alabama, where her family settled after fleeing Laos as refugees. They fermented their own fish sauce, and her father made a weekly trek to Atlanta to pick up lemongrass and galangal at the international farmers’ market.
The essayist Jay Caspian Kang has described Americans of Asian descent as “the loneliest Americans.” Even after the government eased restrictions on immigration from Asia in 1965, being an Asian-American outside major cities often meant living in isolation — the only Asian family in town, the only Asian child at school. A grocery store could be a lifeline.
When the writer Jenny Han, 40, was growing up in Richmond, Va., in the ’90s, her family shopped at the hole-in-the-wall Oriental Market, run by a woman at their church. It was the one place where they could load up on toasted sesame oil and rent VHS tapes of Korean dramas, waiting to pounce when someone returned a missing episode.
A few states away, the future YouTube cooking star Emily Kim — better known as Maangchi — was newly arrived in Columbia, Mo., with a stash of meju, bricks of dried soybean paste, hidden at the bottom of her bag. She was worried that in her new American home she wouldn’t be able to find such essentials.
Then she stumbled on a tiny shop, also called Oriental Market. One day the Korean woman at the counter invited her to stay for a bowl of soup her husband had just made.
“She was my friend,” Maangchi recalled.
Kim’s Convenience” might say, a sneak attack. Once Brian Kwon entered the office, he never left. “My father called it his ‘golden plan,’ after the fact,” he said ruefully. He is now a co-president, alongside his mother and his sister, Stacey, 33. (His father is the chief executive.)
For many non-Asian customers, H Mart is itself a sneak attack. On their first visit, they’re not actually looking for Asian ingredients; customer data shows that they’re drawn instead to the variety and freshness of more familiar produce, seafood and meat. Only later do they start examining bags of Jolly Pong, a sweet puffed-wheat snack, and red-foil-capped bottles of Yakult — a fermented milk drink that sold out after it appeared in Ms. Han’s best-selling novel-turned-movie “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before.”
To be welcoming to non-Koreans, H Mart puts up signs in English. At the same time, the younger Mr. Kwon said, “We don’t want to be the gentrified store.” So while some non-Asians recoil from the tanks of lobsters, the Kwons are committed to offering live seafood.
Sunday Family Hospitality Group, in San Francisco, remembers the H Mart of his youth in New Jersey as “just the Korean store” — a sanctuary for his parents, recent immigrants still not at ease in English. Everyone spoke Korean, and all that banchan was a relief: His mother would pack them in her cart for dinner, then pretend she’d made them herself.
Later, as a teenager, he started seeing his Chinese- and Filipino-American friends there, too, and then his non-Asian friends. Spurred by postings on social media, young patrons would line up to buy the latest snack sensation — “the snack aisle is notorious,” Mr. Hong said — like Haitai honey butter chips and Xiao Mei boba ice cream bars. (The current craze: Orion chocolate-churro-flavored snacks that look like baby turtles.)
In “Mister Jiu’s in Chinatown,” a new cookbook by the chef Brandon Jew and Tienlon Ho, Mr. Jew, 41, recalls Sunday mornings in San Francisco with his ying ying (paternal grandmother in Cantonese), taking three bus transfers to traverse the city, on a mission for fresh chicken — sometimes slaughtered on the spot — and ingredients like pea shoots and lotus leaves.
He still prefers “that Old World kind of shopping,” he said, from independent vendors, each with his own specialties and occasional grouchiness and eccentricities. But he knows that the proliferation of supermarkets like H Mart and 99 Ranch makes it easier for newcomers to Asian food to recreate his recipes.
“Access to those ingredients leads to a deeper understanding of the cuisine,” he said. “And that in turn can become a deeper understanding of a community and a culture.”
Chai Pani in Asheville, N.C., and Atlanta, feels that something is lost when you buy paneer and grass-fed ghee at a Whole Foods Market. You miss the cultural immersion, he says, “getting a dunk and having horizons broadened.”
“An Indian grocery is not just a convenience — it’s a temple,” he said. “You’re feeding the soul. Come in and pick up on the energy.”
In the TV special “Luda Can’t Cook,” which premiered in February, Mr. Irani takes the rapper Ludacris to Cherians, an Indian supermarket in Atlanta. Once Mr. Irani had to scrounge for spices like cumin and turmeric at health food stores; now, surrounded by burlap sacks stuffed with cardamom pods and dried green mango, he tells Ludacris, “This is my house.”
Min Jin Lee, 52, remembers how important H Mart was to people working in Manhattan’s Koreatown in the ’80s, when it was still called Han Ah Reum and “tiny, with almost no place to negotiate yourself through the aisles,” she said. (It has since moved across West 32nd Street to a larger space.) Her parents ran a jewelry wholesale business around the corner, and relied on the store for a cheap but substantial dosirak (lunch box) that came with cups of soup and rice.
She sees the modern incarnation of the store as a boon for second- and third-generation Korean Americans, including thousands of Korean-born adoptees raised by white American parents, who “want to find some sort of connection to the food of their families,” she said. “There aren’t gatekeepers to say who’s in or who’s out.”
BTS — anti-Asian sentiment is growing. With visibility comes risk.
For Ms. Lee, this makes H Mart a comfort. “I like going there because I feel good there,” she said. “In the context of hatred against my community, to see part of my culture being valued — it’s exceptional.”
Family Legacy Capital structures its investments, which are all in the United States, as loans to family businesses that have $25 million to $100 million in revenue. The investments range from $10 million to $50 million and will last three to five years, though the fund expects many of the families to pay back the money in half that time as their businesses improve.
The fund expects annual returns in the low double digits, which is far higher than the investors could get with regular debt investments. But the higher returns take into account the higher risk that comes with investing in struggling businesses. Still, since the investments are secured by assets of the businesses, the fund’s investors have recourse should families struggle to repay loans.
“The low risk is a critical component for the families that invest in these companies,” said Hendrik Jordaan, chairman and founder of Family Legacy Capital. “We’re bringing not only the capital but the family ethos.”
Mr. Jordaan also runs One Thousand & One Voices, a similar private equity fund that focuses on investments in Africa. Investors include the family of John Coors, a great-grandson of the founder of Coors Brewing.
Mr. Jordaan said bringing together families for a fund that was going to help other family businesses seemed like a natural response to the pandemic.
“Imagine if you have one of the world’s largest consumer manufacturing families in your investor base and you ask them, ‘What family-owned companies in your supply chain have you done business with for decades but they’re in trouble because of Covid?’” he said. “If you know your partners are a community of families and you place value on your legacy being preserved, you’re more likely to partner with a family. Our families want to know if their capital has made a difference.”
Mr. Widger said the Family Legacy Capital fund — which includes three other wealthy families, who asked not to be named — does research before making an investment. It asks questions about what the company is trying to create and how it is doing it. But the fund also wants to evaluate the family behind the business and understand what that family needs to keep its business operating successfully.
Culture is key, Mr. Widger said. “Families can get dysfunctional, but family businesses tend to have a really attractive culture,” he said. “It’s human nature to bring your children into your business. There’s something in the chemistry of working with family members. But you’ve still got to be able to have a good vision.”
Peter Warner, an Australian seafarer whose already eventful life was made even more so in 1966 when he and his crew discovered six shipwrecked boys who had been living on an uninhabited island in the South Pacific for 15 months, died on April 13 in Ballina, New South Wales. He was 90.
His death was confirmed by his daughter Janet Warner, who said he had been swept overboard by a rogue wave while sailing near the mouth of the Richmond River, an area he had known for decades. A companion on the boat, who was also knocked into the water, pulled Mr. Warner to shore, but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
The story of the 1966 rescue, which made Mr. Warner a celebrity in Australia, began during a return sail from Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, where he and his crew had unsuccessfully requested the right to fish in the country’s waters. Casually casting his binoculars at a nearby uninhabited island, ‘Ata, he noticed a burned patch of ground.
“I thought, that’s strange that a fire should start in the tropics on an uninhabited island,” he said in a 2020 video interview. “So we decided to investigate further.”
an interview with Vice this year. “And when I compare it to what I gained at school, I think I learned more on the island. Because I learned how to trust myself.”
Back in Tonga, Mr. Warner was greeted as a hero. King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, who had earlier denied him fishing rights, reversed himself. But the owner of the stolen boat was not in a celebratory mood, and he had the boys arrested. He dropped the charges after Mr. Warner offered to compensate him.
The story captivated Australia; a year later the Australian Broadcasting Corporation sent Mr. Warner and the boys back to the island to recreate aspects of their ordeal for a film crew. Other documentaries and newspaper features followed.
Lord of the Flies,” William Golding’s 1954 novel about a group of boys stranded on an island who descend into murderous anarchy. But this was nothing like Mr. Golding’s book: The six boys flourished in their spontaneous community, suggesting that cooperation, not conflict, is an integral feature of human nature.
“If millions of kids are required to read ‘Lord of the Flies,’ maybe they should also be required to learn this story as well,” the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman, who wrote about the episode in his book “Humankind: A Hopeful History” (2020), said in an interview.
Peter Raymond Warner was born on Feb. 22, 1931, in Melbourne, Australia, to Arthur George Warner and Ethel (Wakefield) Warner. Arthur Warner was one of the country’s wealthiest men, having built a manufacturing and media empire, and he expected his son to follow him in the family business.
But Peter was uninterested; he preferred boxing and sailing, and at 17 he ran away from home to join a ship’s crew. When he returned a year later, his father made him go to law school at the University of Melbourne.
He lasted six weeks. He ran away again, this time to sail for three years on Swedish and Norwegian ships. Quick with languages, he learned enough Swedish to pass the master mariner’s exam, allowing him to captain even the largest seagoing vessels.
a 1974 interview. He returned two days before the wedding, and afterward the couple took a five-month honeymoon aboard a cargo ship sailing between Australia and Japan.
Along with his daughter Janet, his wife survives him, as do another daughter, Carolyn Warner; a son, Peter; and seven grandchildren.
In 1965 Mr. Warner bought several crayfish boats, which he operated around Tasmania. But the grounds around Australia were overfished, and he ventured further and further east, eventually taking him to Tonga — and his encounter with ‘Ata.
After he discovered the six boys, Mr. Warner moved with his family to Tonga, where they lived for 30 years before returning to Australia. He hired all six as crew members; he remained especially close to Mr. Totau, who sailed with him for decades.
In 1974, they were fishing near the Middleton Reef, about 300 miles east of Australia, when Mr. Totau spied four sailors on a small island, where they had been stranded for 46 days.
Mr. Warner converted to the Baha’i faith in 1990 and later gave up commercial fishing to start a company that harvested and sold tree nuts.
He wrote three books of memoirs, the second of which, “Ocean of Light: 30 Years in Tonga and the Pacific” (2016), detailed his encounter at ‘Ata.
an excerpt from his book in The Guardian. It garnered more than seven million page views and set off a new round of interest in the boys’ story, including offers from film production companies. In May 2020 it was announced that the four surviving boys, now old men, along with Mr. Bregman and Mr. Warner, had sold the film rights to New Regency.
Although he was accused by some of trying to win fame off the Tongans’ story, Mr. Warner always insisted that it was theirs to tell, and that he would rather spend his time sailing.
“I’d prefer,” he said in 1974, “to fight mother nature than human beings.”