Investors are betting hundreds of millions of dollars on Asian-theme malls, stores and restaurants in the South Bay and East Bay, hoping to cash in on the growing number of residents coming here from countries like China, India, Japan, South Korea and Vietnam.

Four large Asian-theme developments in the pipeline have collectively attracted more than $400 million in investment. They include the $100 million Vietnam Town in San Jose, the $200 million Globe mall in Fremont, the $100 million Pacific Mall Silicon Valley in Milpitas and the $16 million renovation of Cupertino Village in Cupertino.

They are, simply put, trying to transfer a little bit of home to this region.

From left, customers Rashmi Razdan and Dolores Joseph order food from Dosa Hut owner Jaffar Shaik and counterperson Ayub Khan at Dosa Hut restaurant in
From left, customers Rashmi Razdan and Dolores Joseph order food from Dosa Hut owner Jaffar Shaik and counterperson Ayub Khan at Dosa Hut restaurant in Fremont, Calif. on Friday, March 14, 2014. (LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group) ( LiPo Ching )

"More and more Chinese investors are coming to the Bay Area to settle down and a lot of foreign students have come to the South Bay," said Stephanie Xu, co-founder and co-president of China Silicon Valley, a group that promotes bilateral trade between China and Silicon Valley. "They want to eat authentic Chinese food and shop for authentic Chinese retail items."

Foreign investments are bankrolling the biggest projects. Portland-based American Pacific International Capital, the developer of the Globe in Fremont and Vietnam Town in San Jose, funnels money from private investors based in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and other parts of Asia into projects in the United States and other countries. Canada-based Torgan Group, which is developing the Asian-focused mall in Milpitas, is a commercial realty developer that also has built an Asian mall in Toronto.


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Developers of some projects aim to go beyond merely offering places to shop and dine.

"Vietnam Town will be more than a Vietnamese shopping center -- we also want to create a gathering place for the community," said Joseph Nguyen, a marketing and sales manager with American Pacific International Capital, or APIC, owner of the mall.

That and other Asian-theme projects are appearing at a time when the Asian population is exploding in the region. San Jose, for example, was 26.7 percent Asian in 2000, but 33.1 percent Asian by 2012, according to figures released by San Jose's Economic Development Department and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Nearby Fremont is now roughly half Asian, Fremont Economic Development Department officials say, divided about equally between South Asian and East Asian residents.

One key driver of the Asian retail activity is the 99 Ranch supermarket chain, which now has 37 locations, including 15 in Northern California, and is opening about two new stores each year. It currently has seven supermarkets in the East Bay, five in Santa Clara County, two in San Mateo County and one in Sacramento.

"We have expanded fast because of the wide range of products we offer," said Teddy Chow, vice president of marketing for 99 Ranch Markets. "We have unique products that cannot be found in mainstream supermarkets -- a lot of unique items from China, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan."

That's what drew San Jose resident Rubie Lyn and her friend Francisco Guerro to the store one recent afternoon.

"We're looking for unique items, vegetables and juice," Lyn said. "Compared to Walmart, the prices are more expensive, but we can find the items we want here."

Solomon Ets-Hokin, a senior vice president with Colliers International, a commercial realty firm, says 99 Ranch has more of a "regional draw" than a typical supermarket, and its stores often attract other Asian retailers.

"When you have a 99 Ranch as an anchor, you see more retailers that want to be in the same center," he said.

Henry Lii, an executive with Ten Ren Tea, which has five Bay Area outlets, including two in San Francisco, and one each in Cupertino, Milpitas and Richmond, says his company's business is growing as the region's demographics shift.

"Asian products in general are very strong right now," Lii said.

Some streets in the South Bay and East Bay, such as Stevens Creek Boulevard in Cupertino or International Boulevard in Oakland, are dominated by signs with Chinese or Vietnamese characters.

Indian stores and restaurants tend not to cluster in the same way some Asian retail does, but their numbers are growing quickly. In Fremont, for example, Gateway Plaza has become home to a small group of Indian-focused restaurants and other outlets, including Big Cinemas, a theater complex that features movies from India.

"We are getting customers from all over the area," said Jaffar Shaik, owner of Dosa Hut, which offers southern Indian cuisine. "Business is pretty good. The movie theater helps, especially if they have a new movie."

In some cases, Asian retailers are moving into former big-box outlets. Concord's Seafood City, a Filipino-focused food market, was built inside a former Circuit City store. Seafood City opened a Milpitas food market at an old Home Depot site. The Pacific Mall in Milpitas will replace underutilized or empty buildings, including an old Borders bookstore.

"I don't see this being overbuilt for now," said John Machado, a Colliers executive vice president who specializes in retail leasing. "It makes sense to see these specialty markets and specialty retail centers coming on line. There is definitely a demand for this."

Contact George Avalos at 408-859-5167. Follow him at Twitter.com/georgeavalos.