Meng Gau and Sim Khoy opened the first Asian market in San Luis Obispo back in 1992. They owned a local donut shop previously, but the idea of opening a store that specializes in Asian products sparked after they weren’t able to have access to ingredients they were accustomed to using.

“[My husband’s parents] had nowhere to shop,” Fani Gau, owner of San Luis Oriental Market, said. “And that’s why the idea began.”

Fani owns San Luis Oriental Market alongside her husband, Peter Gau. The married couple bought the business from Peter’s parents, Meng Gau and Khoy, in 2018. Prior to buying the store, Fani worked at Trader Joe’s as a crew member.

Meng is of Cambodian descent, while Khoy is Chinese. Their son Peter is Chinese-Cambodian and his wife Fani is Hispanic.

Since the transfer of ownership, the new owners made a few changes around the business. Fani said that she and her husband put a “more youthful spin” to the market, but she believes that her in-laws had a general understanding of what’s commonly used in Asian cuisine.

“Of course, through the years, my in-laws had so much experience of what each nationality tends to buy, like Filipino food, Chinese, Japanese, Korean,” Fani said.

For Fani, she spent time learning about the culture and researching what everyone routinely buys, including trying different recipes, which helped expand her flavor palate.

“My husband and I like to go out and try different items, and I feel like because we do that, we have curated items that we bring into the store,” Fani said. “I want to say probably about 90% of the items that you do see in our shop, I think that we have personally [chosen].”

The new additions the couple introduced to the San Luis Oriental Market include fresh items –– such as noodles and vegetables –– a variety of frozen products and trendy foods, like snacks, candies and drinks. The shelves of the market are full of colorful products from companies like Meiji, Nongshim and Glico.

“We want to keep our store very authentic and want to keep the needs of not only the Asian culture because I feel like nowadays, everyone’s cooking,” Fani said.

According to Fani, her in-laws have donated to the Cal Poly Chinese Student Associations’ (CSA) Lion Dance Team for well over a decade. In return, the team performs in front of the market during Lunar New Year. Fani and her husband plan to continue this tradition.

Unlike other businesses, the San Luis Oriental Market was not as negatively impacted due to COVID.

“We didn’t really change our stock at the beginning of COVID. I think it was because a lot of people were panic-buying [from] bigger chains like Vons and Ralph’s,” Fani said. “I don’t think it was necessarily that people didn’t want to shop in our store, but our parents didn’t really do a lot of advertisement.”

Fani said the pandemic actually helped their business quite a bit as they were able to reach more people as the demand for basic items, like canned goods, increased. The couple also introduced curbside pick-up to help ease customers’ concerns about COVID.

Longtime customer and friend to the couple Dale Beights has been shopping at the San Luis Oriental Market for about 24 years.

“I shop at all types of stores,” Beights said. “However, San Luis Oriental Market is my go-to specialty market.”

Heather Harris is another customer and friend who frequently shops at the market and has been for more than eight years now. Her husband took her there for mochi while they were dating, and “it became a weekly visit for snacks and spices.”

“I shop there for so many reasons, the main reasons being the environment and choices,” Harris said. “I cook a lot and they have so many spices, sauces, herbs and food you cannot find anywhere else.”

Currently, Fani and Peter are the only employees at the market. Prior, Peter’s parents helped out here and there until they officially retired.

However, they hope to change that in the future.

“We would like to continue to expand our products and try new items [and] keep growing our social media presence,” Peter said. “Down the road, our ultimate goal is to move into a bigger location and hire employees.”

According to Fani, most of their customers learn about the store by word of mouth. She hopes to change this by learning more about how to promote the business on social media and collaborating with Cal Poly organizations in the future.

The owners also have plans to rebrand their store sometime, including changing the store name and creating a logo.

The term “oriental,” used in the store’s name, is outdated and has a history of being used offensively towards the Asian community.

“[‘Oriental’] kind of generalizes all Asians as being the same, so you lose your identity as an ethnic group in the eyes of the speaker,” Cal Poly civil engineering alumnus PJ Yebisu said.

Fani Gau first thought about changing the business name when her in-laws were still running the store. However, it was only an opinion she didn’t voice since it wasn’t her store yet.

“My husband and I thought about it from the beginning, but having the name change involves a lot of paperwork and money,” Fani said.

Fani said that there would hopefully be a name change within the next year.

Oct. 1 this year is the San Luis Oriental Market’s 30th anniversary, as well as Fani’s birthday.

“I want to have a big celebration,” Fani said. “I think it’s a big deal. It’s going to bring people together.”