Owner, Asian Gourmet Market
Living and working in a different country provides a wealth of unique experiences. But sometimes we just need a taste of home. Bringing international ingredients to the North Dakota plains, as well as her own kitchen, inspired QiuhongToman to open the Asian Gourmet Market in 2014. Her background in general business studies didn’t quite prepare her for the challenges of owning and operating an international grocery, but her tenacity and commitment to doing even the smallest thing well have helped her business grow.
Today, the Asian Gourmet Market is an important part of Bismark’s international community, a gathering place for residents and those searching for new adventures through food, and a hub of multiculturalism in the region.
A Taste of Home
Bismarck Woman Brings International Flavors to Diverse Community
Craving the Flavors of Home
Toman, affectionally referred to as Ruby by her customers, originally came to the United States as a student. It’s an age-old story. Girl meets boy, they fall in love, and soon Toman found herself calling North Dakota home. The foods of our childhood have a special power over us, though, and despite being an ocean away from her native home, Toman longed for the flavors of home.
“Back then, we usually had to travel to Minneapolis,” Toman said. She jokes that she opened Asian Gourmet Market just for her. “Because I wanted it so much, I decided I’m going to have one.”
Toman and her husband began researching what it would take to open an international grocery. In addition to common business challenges such as space, staff, and overhead, Toman quickly realized she needed to master additional languages in order to communicate with her vendors.
“You think it’s just a little bit of work, how hard can it be?,” she said. “but you have to know everything.”
A Labor of Love
It took several years of hard work before Asian Gourmet Market opened its doors. Toman started small, perhaps too small. Anyone who shopped at that first location will remember the aisles packed from floor to ceiling with products from around the globe. There might not have been enough room for two carts to pass, but no one could pass up the opportunity to wander slowly up and down the aisles looking at all the exciting offerings.
With support from the community and her customers, Toman was soon looking for a larger location. In 2018 the store moved to its current location, 800 East Bowen Ave. In addition to more than doubling the square footage, Toman added five employees to her staff. She’s also expanded beyond Asian products to include fresh and packaged foods from Africa, South America, and Europe. “I like to try out food from different cultures,” Toman said. “That’s why I keep adding, non-stop.”
Food Connects Us
Asian Gourmet Market celebrates 10 years in business this fall. There have been plenty of challenges over the last decade, everything from a global pandemic to figuring out a new point-of-sale system. Regardless of size, Toman approaches each challenge with the same determination.
“When a problem comes, there must be a way to solve it,” she said. “There is no secret to success. Everybody already knows it. If you cannot do the small things right—like sweeping the floor—how can you do big things? Small problems can be solved.”
Toman is proud of what she has built for her family and Bismark’s international community. She might have started this journey for herself, but it’s the customers that inspire her to continue pushing forward.
“People teach me a lot,” she said. Not only the ingredients and products they are looking for, but how to cook their cultural dishes. She takes notes, studies, and tries cooking for her family. Then she can be a resource for the next customer who comes in.
“Food connects us,” she said. Whether it’s someone searching for the flavors of home or someone looking to explore a new cuisine, Toman is happy to see them wandering the aisles of Asian Gourmet Market.
Asian Gourmet Market
Facebook | /AsianGourmetMarket
800 E Bowen Ave, Bismarck, ND