When Byong Joo “B.J.” Yu created Koreana Plaza (KP) International in Rancho Cordova in 2003, his goal was to capitalize on Sacramento’s rich diversity and build more than a big international supermarket store. Instead, he envisioned an immersive, joyful complex where customers could spend hours getting lost in its global splendor.
He seems to have done just that, creating a center that not only provide a vast selection of food and cooking items, but also a diverse food court, a karaoke bar and billiards parlor. Someday, it may also house Korean spa and a cocktail lounge.
“I don’t want people to just come for shopping only,” Yu said recently. “I want them to do something they enjoy. That’s what I’m trying to make.”
Shoppers can get just about anything at KP International’s vast market. From hard-to-find specialty food items like alligator feet, a specific kind of sake, butter from a particular region, or even high quality cookware, you can usually find it at the sprawling center at 10971 Olson Drive.
The sheer size of the place can be intimidating for some, but not for Julio Hernandez, a lawyer with the office of the Attorney General of California who lives in Citrus Heights and frequents the store with wife and four children.
“I enjoy going there, because I discover something new I haven’t tried,” Hernandez said. “Our kids ... get to buy treats that are not widely available. The girls like seeing the live fish.”
Yu said he frequently visits other international markets and is constantly adding to the store’s vast inventory.
“I look around, then I say, ‘Okay, give me that,’’’ he said.
KP International comprises has 80,000 square feet of space on 18 acres and carries more than 65,000 items from more than 100 countries. Among the 20 departments are a butcher shop, a fresh seafood market with live catfish, turtles and other aquatic fauna, an international bakery and specialty delis.
The liquor store has countless types of global libations. The produce department features a huge selection of fresh fruits and veggies, as well as having one of the largest selections of mushrooms in the area.
There’s also a beauty department with a huge selection of products, including the popular Korean face masks.
On Saturday and Sunday afternoons, cooks demonstrate how to prepare a variety of international dishes that shoppers can try. Tours are also available for schools, senior groups and others upon request.
The customers are as diverse as the merchandise. Yu reports the customer demographic breakdown as 16 percent Korean, 14 percent other Asians, 30 percent east European, 10 percent Latino, 10 percent Middle Eastern, 7 percent Indian and 13 percent other.
Also diverse is the staff, with 180 people from 18 cultures.
The expansive food court has seven different global options and also includes the Blue Corner coffee and bubble tea station. The center also has an upscale sit-down eatery: the Red Alcove Korean Barbecue restaurant.
Adjacent to the shopping area is a family-friendly karaoke bar featuring English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese songs, and a nine-table billiards parlor.
Yu emigrated from South Korea with his family when he was 19 and opened his first store, KP Market in Oakland, more than 30 years ago before moving to Rancho Cordova. With his wife and two teenaged sons, he’s become a part of the business community, supporting community events and receiving recognition from local organizations.
In 2016, he was named Distinguished Business Partner by the Cordova Community Council (CCC). Marie Beckstaiger, the event specialist at the CCC, said KP supports numerous events such as the Wines of the World Event that takes place on the second Saturday in May each year.
She’s a big fan of the store. “You’ll find every segment of Rancho Cordova — every nationality, every language that is spoken here — at that market... It’s a wonderful outlet to go and try things from all over the world without a passport,” she said.
While KP International continues to grow and change, Yu has a couple of challenges. One is handling interaction with his diverse work force.
“Everybody from different countries have different cultural judgments.” he said.
Also, with so much culturally specific inventory, customers often ask to find a precise item and the staff isn’t always able to locate it
While Yu is not opposed to opening up more branches of KP in the future, he prefers to focus his attention on the Rancho Cordova location for now. For the future, he plans this year to add an outdoor cocktail lounge called Paradise - a project that’s been delayed for several years.
He also would like to convert the food court into a dance club that features a DJ and music ranging from from hip-hop to rock and dance beats. He also dreams of creating a Korean Spa for people who want a little pampering.
The options for KP seem to be limitless.
Said Yu: “If you want something unique, then come to KP.”
If You Visit KP International
Address: 10971 Olson Drive, Rancho Cordova
Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Phone: (916) 853-8000 Visit them online at: http://www.kpinternationalmarket.com/