If you love cooking Korean food, then you must be familiar with a grocery store called H Mart, which is where most Korean food lovers would get their ingredients for their favorite dishes. If you aren’t shopping at H Mart and not familiar with the store, it is a Korean-American supermarket chain that was founded in September 1982 by Korean businessman IlYeon Kwon. According to Kwon, the H in the supermarket name stands for “Han Ah Reum,” which is a Korean phrase that means “one arm full of groceries” in English. How did H Mart start? And how did it become one of the biggest Korean-American supermarkets? We will find out as we dive into the history and growth of H Mart.
First H Mart Supermarket
The first H Mart was founded in Woodside, Queens, New York, in September 1982, although it was named “Han Ah Reum” and was only a small corner grocery store that sells Korean food ingredients and other Asian products like the H Mart BBQ grill. Interestingly, this first H Mart store still uses the “Han Ah Reum” name and remains as a small grocery store.
Two years after the founding of the first H Mart store, the second branch was built in Union, New York. By 1999, there are already a total of nine H Mart built in different states, including New Jersey, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. In addition, the headquarters of H Mart was also moved from Queens, New York to Lyndhurst, New Jersey, in 1998 in order to accommodate and assists more stores outside New York.
Super H Mart and More Branches in the United States
The first large H Mart store, aptly called “Super H Mart,” was opened in 2004 in Duluth, Georgia, and it is also the first H Mart store in the state. The company then started to add more and more branches each year, and by March 2006, they already had 22 branches. Most of these H Mart branches were found on the East Coast in 2006, but the company decided to build two branches in Denver, Colorado.
In the 2010s, the company running H Mart decided to add more stores on the West Coast, and by the end of the decade, they have open four stores in California and two stores in Texas. One of those stores was the 43,000-square foot H Mart in San Jose, California, which was built in 2017. As of 2019, H Mart has 66 branches across the United States, and these branches are found in 12 states, namely New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois, Georgia, Washington, North Carolina, and California. The Virginian branches are particularly known for having many Hispanic American employees, and although this created a cultural conflict between them and the Korean American employees when the Northern Virginia branch was opened in 2001, it was through intercultural training courses that they were able to give respect towards one another.
Expansion to Canada and the United Kingdom
In 2003, H Mart founded their first Canadian branch in Coquitlam, British Columbia. What’s interesting about the move to build an H Mart in Canada was that the company wanted to make the brand popular in another country first before making it popular on the West Coast, although the move did make sense during that time since British Columbia since the colder climate in the Canadian region makes the people crave hot and spicy food, which is the specialty of Korean dishes.
After the first Canadian store became successful, H Mart then added three more branches that are located in Downtown Vancouver (2006), Richmond (2012), and Port Coquitlam (2016). After the Richmond branch was built, the company started to experiment with their business strategies the following year and open their first urban convenience store in Willowdale, Toronto, and this store was called “M2M,” an abbreviation for “morning to midnight.” When the M2M store became successful in Canada, H Mart decided to bring the format to Manhattan by opening two M2m stores in the area.
Besides Canada, H Mart also expanded in the United Kingdom when they founded the H Mart Europe Limited company in 2009. However, there is currently only one H Mart store in the UK, and this branch is located in New Malden, a suburb in London.
H Mart branches are becoming more and more prominent in the United States and Canada in recent times, and their popularity in those two countries may eventually lead the company to expand its business in other countries around the world.
Interestingly, despite being a grocery store that sells Korean food and ingredients, H Mart still doesn’t have a branch in South Korea, although they may not be able to expand in that country since there are already well-established stores that sell the same products and items there. However, there are still some countries that have been hit by the Hallyu (Korean Wave or Korean Craze) that still don’t have specialty stores that sell Korean products, and in the future, H Mart may capitalize on the popularity of Korean culture in other countries by building branches and expanding their presence.