May 3

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Uwajimaya’s seafood-focused sibling store Kai Market is full of excellent flavors in a tiny space.

Kai Market, the long-awaited little sibling to Asian specialty supermarket Uwajimaya, is now open at the 400 Fairview building in South Lake Union. The small-store concept was the idea of former CEO Tomoko Moriguchi, and its realization has come to fruition at the hands of Denise Moriguchi, current CEO of Uwajimaya Inc., and her cousin, Miye Moriguchi, who is the company’s development manager. “I think for me, I love taking everything that Uwajimaya has built over the last 88 years and presenting it in a new modern way. Leveraging all our history and our past but still being progressive and modern with it,” Denise says.

The store is between an eighth and a tenth of the size of Uwajimaya in the International District and offers about 1,100 items, down from more than 20,000 items in a normal-size store. Miye oversaw the store’s design direction and the team behind the build included Graham Baba Architects, Turnstyle, and Skanska. The space’s Japanese-inspired design is clean and simplistic with a natural, open feel. Miye explains that the store’s transparent atmosphere, allows the store’s products to shine.

When Denise and the Uwajimaya team found the space at 400 Fairview, it was a no-brainer for this concept. “South Lake Union is attractive because of its density. Right now it’s a bit underserved. The customer here is international, they’re well-traveled, and we think the palate is one that would be open to what we offer,” she says.

Those offerings are mostly seafood focused (kai refers to ocean in both Japanese and Hawaiian languages)—the market boasts an impressive seafood case featuring fresh, whole fish and large tanks with oysters and Dungeness crab. Grab-and-go items such California rolls, onigiri (rice balls stuffed with pickled plum, salmon, and other goodies), and sashimi line the refrigerators in the middle of the market.

Adjacent to the seafood case are the Poke Bar and the Eats Bar. It’s no surprise that Kai Market would feature poke, which is obviously Seattle’s food of the moment. It does this well with fresh fish and a variety of preparations. The Eats Bar is a sort of mini version of a Chinese barbecue joint that serves everyday items like roast pork, roast duck, hum bao, and more. The crew at the Eats Bar likes to experiment, so watch for changing hot servings like ika geso karaage (fried squid legs), chicharon, and spam musubi.

Kai Market has positioned itself as the next great place to grab a quick lunch in South Lake Union (its western wall adjacent to Fairview has limited counter seating if you want to sit, munch, and people-watch), but the market aspect is not to be ignored. Shoppers can find fresh produce and essentials like eggs and milk and Asian pantry items such as soy sauce and sriracha. The wall of instant noodles and a bevy of Asian candies like Pocky are sure to satisfy any customer seeking to fortify their desk snack drawer. An impressive range of beer and sake round out the market’s offerings. Oh, and if you have a growler, you can get it filled here. Kai Market has taps for local and Japanese beers, kombucha, and sake. Denise says that she believes this store might be the only one in the U.S. that offers a sake growler fill.

Kai Market will celebrate its public grand opening on May 3.  The store is open Monday through Friday, 10am-8pm, Saturday 10am-5pm, and closed Sundays.

Photos and story by Ethan Chung.

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle