In the heart of Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood is Yasai Market, a small, independently-owned produce store. The shop is located on College Avenue, directly across the street from a Safeway grocery store, but owner Bo Pak is not afraid of having a chain supermarket as her neighbor.
“They go over there for toilet paper and beer and then they come here for fresh produce,” Pak said. “We never sacrifice on quality.”
The word “yasai” means produce in Japanese. Pak’s parents bought the small shop in 1992 from a Japanese family—the same family owned the popular Berkeley Bowl grocery stores. The family opened Yasai in the 1970s, their son took it over, and eventually, Pak’s parents bought it from him.
Yasai shares the street with The Meadows florist, Cole Coffee, and numerous other small shops. With its four narrow aisles and a sidewalk crowded with produce bins, Yasai attracts customers who like the fresh products, friendly atmosphere and small size of the store.
“I think it’s important to take the time, no matter how busy a day I’m having, to spend time and catch up with my customers,” Pak said.
Yasai’s customers are fiercely loyal—some, like Gail Uilkema of Piedmont, have been shopping there for 40 years. “They are one of the anchors of the neighborhood,” said Susan Aaron, a Berkeley resident and another longtime Yasai customer.
Pak says she buys as much local produce as possible for her shop, given the season. During the summer, California farmers provide a lot of Yasai’s fruit and vegetables. She picks up most of her produce daily from the Jack London wholesale market in Oakland.
Even though competition is “very stiff,” said Pak, Yasai continues to double or triple its produce sales. Pak stocks everything from grapefruit to asparagus, artichokes, bell peppers, figs, avocados, oranges, arugula and even locally made tofu and ice cream, always making sure to cater to the needs and requests of her customers.
Pak’s dedication to fresh produce and her efforts to know her customers have proven to be an effective business strategy, and people keep coming back to Yasai Market on College Avenue. “It wouldn’t be as wonderful a neighborhood without this store in it,” Aaron said.