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Tai Nam Market, the pan-Asian supermarket on Broadway near Argyle, is a well-known destination for affordable and authentic produce from around the globe. I spoke with Phieu Tran, owner and co-founder, about Tai Nam’s history, plans for the future, and lessons learned from 25 years in business.
Opened in 1993 in a former car dealership, Tai Nam means “Big South” – homage to the founders’ South Vietnam roots. It anchors a plaza of restaurants, beauty supply stores, immigration services, and a travel agency. And despite having only so much space, Tai Nam finds ways to expand its offerings – Indonesian products are a recent addition – while keeping only the most authentic products on its shelves that include Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Cambodian, and Filipino goods.
This means that you’ll find a plethora fresh fish, meat, and tofu, colorful produce and fragrant herbs, plus a dizzying variety of instant ramen, as well as plenty of meat alternatives, spices, imported candies, and much more. And as Uptown prepares for the annual Lunar New Year parade, Tai Nam is packed with colorful decorations and imported trays of candies available only for the season, plus shoppers who flock here for a taste of home.
The market began when a family member asked Phieu to be a business partner. With the L nearby, Uptown’s recent influx of Asian immigrants and refugees in the 1980s, and Vietnamese churches and Buddhist temples in the area meant an ideal location with a built-in clientele. Despite the demand, the two nearly went bankrupt building the plaza. Today, after 25 years in business, Phieu is seeing more second-generation immigrants come in to shop. Even though they may not follow their parents’ traditions as much, he says they are still eager to come in. Also, Phieu has learned the importance of compromise – and for him that means balancing Eastern and Western tradition in his store.
Whatever he is doing is working because Tai Nam is always busy. During the week commuters walk in to shop and on weekends people drive in from across Chicago, the suburbs, and even neighboring states to shop. Local restaurants shop here too – sometimes buying a single fish that a customer may have requested.
Phieu came to America in 1979 as one of the “boat people” – refugees who endured harrowing ordeals to escape the Vietnam War by boat. He worked as a mechanic while studying at Truman College. He finished his degree at UIC and worked for Motorola for 15 years where he invented 11 telecommunication patents on algorithms. He left Motorola to run Tai Nam full-time in 2004. He is also deeply involved in the community and won a humanitarian service award in 2013.
So stop in! Soak in the smells, colors, and endless possibilities for delicious foods for you to discover among Tai Nam’s shelves.
This content was written while I was Program Manager at Uptown United, an agency working to nurture a diverse, vibrant, thriving and strong Uptown. [/two_third][one_third_last padding=”0 20px 0 0″]…[/one_third_last]