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Whatcom County is getting a new taste of Asian food with the opening of three Asian cuisines

Three recently opened stores around Whatcom County focus on Asian culture and its food

A sign outside of the newly opened Ferndale Asian Grocer reads, “Everything you need for your Asian Cuisine Recipes” in Ferndale, Wash. on Oct. 1, 2022. The store offers a wide-range of Asian and some non-Asian items, such as Macaroni noodles // Photo by Jacob Mina

Last month, Ferndale saw the opening of its first Asian grocery store, Ferndale Asian Grocer. The same month, Bellingham welcomed two new Asian-inspired cafes - Mochinut and Happy Lemon. 

Mochinut is an American-based chain of donut shops, specializing in mochi donuts, a treat that combines American doughnuts and mochi, a traditional Japanese rice cake. 

Happy Lemon, a beverage chain founded by a Taiwan-based company, specializes in bubble tea and bubble waffles, waffles with spheres full of extra batter baked into them.

The Ferndale Asian Grocer’s interior is home to rows of shelves that hold food and products belonging to a wide range of countries, even including non-Asian countries.

Cuong Tran, the owner of the Grocer, said she had been thinking of opening a store in Ferndale for about a year. 

“We just bought a house in Ferndale and got a good deal on the shop,” Tran said. 

She also said she owns West Coast Oriental Grocer in Bellingham.

“The Community here has been so welcoming. They keep telling me Ferndale has had nothing like this,” Tran said.

Riley Sweeney is the Ferndale communications officer and recreation coordinator, and he has been working there for eight years. He said that Ferndale is the fastest growing city north of Everett.

“Ferndale is a rich tableau of people from all sorts of backgrounds,” he said. “I get to be a part of what shapes Ferndale’s identity. I do hope Western students come to visit the store and Ferndale. It’s only about 10 minutes north.” 

Some of the international students at Western are always looking to try out more specialty stores and restaurants. As such, a few of them have taken notice to the Ferndale store opening.

“I definitely think it’s a small step in the right direction,” said Kunthel Chith, a second-year international student originally from Cambodia. “It signals that Asian culture can grow in Bellingham.”

According to the U.S. Census, 4.8% of Whatcom County’s population is of Asian descent. 

Comparatively, 1.1% of WWU students are international, with the majority of international students being from Korea, Japan and China, according to College Factual’s website. College Factual is a website that collects information on universities from enrollment rates to most common majors.

Chith is a transfer student from Shoreline Community College. He said he preferred his time at SCC because Shoreline had more diverse food options. The area around SCC not only had an Asian grocery store but also several Asian restaurants with different national cuisines.

“Sometimes, I feel uncomfortable at Western because of the lack of food choices. I know there are programs for international students, but they can only help so much,” Chith said, although he added that he does have friends in some of those programs and they all enjoy them.

Chith said Western’s campus should have an announcement board for specialty stores, as he only heard about the recent store openings through other students.

Phu Hoàng, an international student from Vietnam, said he’s also noticed a lack of diverse cuisines while at Western. 

“I talk to a lot of Indonesian students, and sometimes we go down to Seattle just to eat their food,” he said. 

Both Hoàng and Chith expressed how the opening of Ferndale Asian Grocer would do good in improving the variety of Asian food in Whatcom County. Hoàng said he believes many of Bellingham’s Vietnamese restaurants have similar, limited menus. 

A pair of shelves display items for sale near the front window at Ferndale Asian Grocer in Ferndale, Wash. on Oct. 10, 2022. // Photo by Jacob Mina

“The problem is that some of the other dishes are complex, and a lot of Asian cultures have a wide variety of dishes. If you don’t have access to the ingredients here, then no one can make it,” Hoàng said.

Despite challenges finding traditional foods in Bellingham, Chith said he’s been able to find some pockets of cultural community on campus. 

“For new international students, the Ethnic Student Center is a great resource,” Chith said. “You can meet similar people to you and they really make you feel at home.” 

Tran said, in the future, she hopes to open a Vietnamese restaurant also in Ferndale. When asked about the possibility of more Western students coming by, she said: “You’re welcome anytime! We have a variety of cultures represented here and our fresh produce is from Seattle.” 

Tran’s Ferndale store is located at 2044 Main St. 98248. West Coast Oriental is located at 4064 WA-539, Bellingham, WA 98226.

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