Christopher and Mora Worden were very tired of driving from Bangor to Portland several times a month to stock up on Asian produce, dry goods, condiments and other items that Mora, who grew up in China, needed for cooking.
Items like vinegars, cooking wines, oils and fresh vegetables – other than napa cabbage and bok choy of sometimes questionable quality – were not available in the Bangor area.
Instead of taking the long drive with their little girl in tow, they decided to bring the Asian market to Bangor.
Next week, Wordens will open Fat Panda Boba market and tea, an Asian grocery store and cafÃ©, offering boba tea, bao rolls and a full range of East and Southeast Asian products, aimed at the region’s Asian community and lovers of Asian cuisine .
âWe want to serve the Asian community here, and also hopefully be a place where people interested in Asian food can learn even more about it,â said Chris Worden, 26, native of Brewer and son of Peter and Kendall Worden.
Fat Panda, located at 324 Harlow St., next to longtime Bangor businesses like Gosselin’s Donuts and Bangor Floral, is painted a cheery pink and purple and has a long coffee counter at the back. In addition to a wide array of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Vietnamese and Korean grocery stores, Wordens will offer boba – or bubble tea – the popular Taiwanese drink made from iced tea, dairy or vegan milk, sugar and boba. , tapioca pearls that come in many different fruit flavors.
They also plan to offer bao rolls, steamed buns filled with a range of items, like grilled pork, fried chicken, spicy tofu and other toppings, both traditional and contemporary. Eventually, they plan to offer pre-packaged Japanese bento boxes to take out.
âWe want to be the kind of place where it takes you five minutes or less to walk in and have your lunch,â Worden said. âWe are fortunate to have a lot of parking at the front, which is certainly a rarity for a lot of downtown areas.â
The Wordens took a roundabout route to open a grocery store and cafe. After graduating from college in New Jersey in 2016, Worden moved to Beijing, where he worked in finance and eventually met his future wife, lawyer and Shanxi native, Mora, whom he married in 2019. Both were exhausted from demanding careers in China – and Mora had recently become pregnant – so in December 2019, they moved to Washington state, near Vancouver. Weeks later, the pandemic struck, then their child, Siobhan, was born in May 2020.
âOur daughter didn’t realize that other children existed during the first year of her life,â Worden said. âWe spent our first year and a half in America completely stuck inside. We really needed a change.
The couple returned to the Bangor area in May this year, where the cost of living is much lower than in Washington, and where they could more easily pursue a dream they both aspired to: luck. to be their own boss.
âNeither of us had any retail experience, but we knew this was something we wanted to do and we’ve learned so much over the past six months,â Worden said.
On the West Coast, Asian grocery stores do not each cater to a specific segment of the Asian diaspora, such as China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam or Thailand. Asian grocery stores there can be as big as the big western chains and have a full line of food from all over Asia. This is what the Wordens are going to do with their shop.
Census data shows that there are approximately 1,500 people of Asian descent living in Penobscot County, not counting temporary residents like students at John Bapst High School, University of Maine and Husson University. There are a thousand other people living together in neighboring Hancock and Waldo counties. Wordens believe this is an underserved market.
âI timed it, and it’s about a 12 minute walk from John Bapst to our store,â Worden said. “We really think there is a whole underserved community of Asians in the region that this may answer.”
Fat Panda Boba & Market will open the week of December 13th. For more information, like them on Facebook.