A “mom and pop” Asian food market has opened in downtown Palestine and will be having a grand opening and open house Saturday during the Dogwood Trails Celebration.
The Kaibigan Asian Market & Grocery is located at 308 W. Crawford St. next to K-9 Classic Cuts across from Palestine City Hall. The market is located on the back side of Warren’s Barber Shop, which is the market’s handicap entrance as well.
“We had a soft opening on Jan. 31, mostly word of mouth and already we’ve had a lot of people stop by. The community is really supporting us in this effort,” owner John Willingham said. “It’s already taken a life of it’s own — we are becoming more of an international market with a focus on Asian foods.”
From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, the Kaibigan Asian Market & Grocery will hold an open house and grand opening event with some Thai, Indian, Filipino and Chinese food items available to taste.
Willingham, a Palestine native, and his wife, Rocelle, a native of the Philippines who moved to the United States in 1990, married in 1995, meeting at Palestine Regional Medical Center where they both worked at the time. Rocelle is still employed at PRMC as a medical technologist. They have a son, Thomas, 8.
The word “kaibigan” is Philippine for “friend,” according to Rocelle’s mom Araclei Habaradas, who is currently visiting from the Philippines.
“Palestine has a large Philippine, Vietnamese and Cambodian population,” Willingham said. “But there are other Asian nationalities as well such as Korean, Thai, Japanese and Chinese. We’ve also seen other nationalities such as Pakistan, Indian, Puerto Rican, Nigerian and Ethiopian who have come in to see what we have and asked us to carry some things. We are pretty much open to suggestions.”
Some of the food items available include: sweet chili sauce, pure raw honey, banana chips, oolong tea, oriental-style noodles, rice sticks, rice noodles, spring roll wrappers, Jasmine rice, brown Jasmine rice, frozen coconut juice, sushi rice, sushi wrappers, aloe vera dessert, coconut gel, dried squid, wasabi green peas, curry paste, curry gravy, Lychees, quail eggs, coconut and cane vinegar, LaPaz Batchoy instant noodles, bean thread noodles and whole mung beans.
The market also will carry some fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh fish, sardines, cured meat (pork), Longaniza (sausage), milkfish and occasionally blue crabs from the Gulf.
The Kaibigan Asian Market & Grocery also carries the popular Filipino cracker peanut brand Nagaraya.
“We also have low-sugar jams and jellies that are made locally,” Rocelle Willingham said. “When all possible, we try to support local people. In the fall, we hope to start carrying flavored honeys.”
John Willingham said the closest Asian market is in Tyler, with many others in Dallas and Houston.
“One of the reasons we started this was because we would have to drive so far to get what we needed,” John Willingham said. “The market in Tyler is too high. When we made trips to Dallas, we would ask other people what they needed, and bring it back for them as well.”
That led to opening a market in Palestine.
The market also has a few clothing, jewelry and gift items, including magnetic bracelets.
“I believe our prices are very reasonable for an Asian food store,” Rocelle Willingham said.
Since opening, the market also has had requests for vegan and vegetarian food items.
“We will cater primarily to the Asian food market,” John Willingham said. “But we also will start looking for vegan and vegetarian items — healthy food choices.”
The Kaibigan Asian Market & Grocery is currently open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Currently, the market takes cash and checks for payment. In the near future, the store will be able to take debit and credit cards.
For more information, call the Kaibigan Asian Market & Grocery at 903-391-3288.