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Year of the Dragon, Luckiest Animal in the Zodiac: Will that Luck Hold for Asian-Themed CRE?

Caroline Wu
Feb 10, 2024
Year of the Dragon, Luckiest Animal in the Zodiac: Will that Luck Hold for Asian-Themed CRE?

It only comes around once every 12 years, and for those born in the Year of the Dragon, they are considered to be the luckiest of the Zodiac signs.  This year’s element is wood, and thus a Wood Dragon year can portend good fortune, action, and expansion.  Let’s take a look at some Asian concepts, brands, and shopping centers and see if our Placer trends indicate whether they might be in for a lucky, powerful year.

More Tea, Please: Tea is Anywhere and Everywhere, All at Once

Tea drinks, especially those including tapioca pearls otherwise known as boba have created billionaires in China, and global expansion means that you can get your fill of the chewy goodies all over the world nowadays.  Some of the largest chains in the US include Kung Fu Tea, with over 350 locations; Gong Cha; Sharetea with more than 500 stores in 15 locations; Boba Guys known for their famous strawberry puree matcha tea latte; and It’s Boba Time, Happy Lemon,  YiFang Taiwan Fruit Tea, and Boba Loca.

Tea has been an integral part of our global history.  As a precious commodity, it was traded along the Silk Road, leading to increased transcontinental commerce.  In American history, the Boston Tea Party was perhaps not so much about tea itself but about taxation and representation, but in any words, it was definitely a catalyst towards American independence.  And now,  thousands of years later, tea continues to be a tour de force for antioxidants, anti-aging, and an overall delicious base for a bevy of creative drinks.  Economists often talk about the “latte index” - used to estimate purchasing power parity in 16 countries around the world compared to the cost of a tall Starbucks latte in NYC.

Latte Index 2.9.24
Source: (The Latte Index: Using the Impartial Bean to Value Currencies)

With the way things are going with teas, could a boba index not be far behind?  We examined year-over-year traffic for some of the leading tea/boba chains compared to specialty coffee chains.  Boba has seen gains compared to last year, usually at a higher percentage than coffee.  Both beverage type chains have trended upwards in 2023, although coffee had a bit of a dip in the latter part of the year.

To be fair, one can often order a coffee at a tea store and vice versa, but there are certainly toppings and color sensations at tea stores that are uniquely suited to social media, such as butterfly pea, which is an intense shade of violet, or various vibrant toppings such as popping boba in pink and orange.  In some creations, the tea is even dispensed with entirely, such as Tiger Sugar’s brown sugar boba milk with a deep caramel flavor, or their highly-coveted ice cream bar version of the drink.

Tiger Sugar images side by side 2.9.24

Asian Malls in the US to Visit for Lunar New Year

For those wishing for an authentic taste of an Asian shopping mall experience during Lunar New Year, there are many options around the US including Chinese shopping malls in the west like Focus Plaza/San Gabriel Square in San Gabriel Valley, Diamond Jamboree in Irvine, Shanghai Plaza in Chinatown Las Vegas, and Great Wall Mall in Kent, WA as well as in the east like Tangram and New World Mall in Flushing, NY.

Of these malls, Diamond Jamboree is the most visited. It has local favorites like The Kickin' Crab, Hai Di Lao, and Pepper Lunch. For dessert, head on over to Meet Fresh, with its refreshing grass jelly or chewy taro balls or SomiSomi for the cutest fish-shaped pancakes and a delectable choice of soft-serve flavors like ube and sesame.

Next is Shanghai Plaza, which is located in Las Vegas Chinatown.  At Shanghai Taste, one can slurp xiao long bao soup dumplings, and another favorite - sheng jian bao - which is basically the love child of the more well known bao zi (meat bun) and the aforementioned xiao long bao. Somehow, it manages to have the fluffiness of the outer dough with a burst of soup and filling inside. Add the slight crunchiness of a pan-fried base and your mouth will be amazed by the variety of flavors and textures.

San Gabriel Square, also known as Focus Plaza, is the granddaddy of San Gabriel Valley larger-than-life malls. Also lovingly named “Chinese Disneyland” it offers a famous restaurant Five Star Seafood, a 99 Ranch, as well as other restaurants and jewelry stores. It opened in 1990 and became the place where one could go to buy laserdiscs for karaoke machines, as well as buy delicacies like honey-dried mangoes or salted plums. Nearly 25 years later, it is poised for renovation as it competes with other Chinese malls in the Greater Los Angeles and Orange County area for hot new restaurants and bakeries.

Moving across the country, we have Tangram in Queens, NY.  Who doesn’t love an Asian food hall, with its dizzying array of hawkers, smells, and bustle? Tangram opened its Food Hall in January 2023, with a mix of international cuisine such as Joju for Vietnamese sandwiches, Zaab Zaab for Thai food, and Na Tart for egg tarts. One unique offering at Xi’an Famous Food is their piece de resistance lamb noodles. Topped with melt-in-your-mouth lamb, the broth is composed of both cumin and chili, and the hand-pulled noodles offer you that perfect texture referred to as “qq” in Chinese, whose closest renditions for noodles in another language might be “al dente.” This food hall spans 24,000 square feet and is lit with neon to mimic the non-stop night market energy in cosmopolitan Asian cities.

Great Wall Mall in Kent, Seattle is another Pan-Asian shopping center, despite its Chinese-centric name. Anchored by a 99 Ranch market, it also includes Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, a Korean clothing store, hair and nail salons, and home decor.  Architecturally, the outside is flanked by a fortress-style wall that mimics the Great Wall of China.

Last, but not least, we have New World Mall. Another sprawling food hall awaits, with over two dozen eateries to choose from. The exciting part of visiting food halls is the ability to get to the level of regional cuisine. Whether its Chongqing xiao mian featuring spicy Sichuan noodles or knife-cut noodles from Lanzhou, one has the opportunity to try a variety of cooking styles, nuances in similar-sounding dishes, and basically explore an entire country through its diversity of tastes.

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Caroline Wu

Director of Research,

Caroline brings expertise in retail, CRE, entertainment, media, CPG, and tourism, and specializes in synthesizing broad datasets into actionable recommendations for growth. She has worked as the US Director of Consumer Insights at Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, VP of Retail Insights and Intelligence at Omnicom, and Senior Director at Kantar. Caroline holds an MA in Sociology from Stanford University and a BA in International Relations from Stanford University.

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