AsiaTown is a community that already has a lot to offer, but with new developments on the horizon, it also has big plans ahead.
CLEVELAND— For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, 3News continues to celebrate Asian businesses, communities and individuals here in Northeast Ohio. What better place to spotlight than Cleveland’s AsiaTown neighborhood? It’s a community that already has a lot to offer, but also has big plans.
AsiaTown is a neighborhood rich in culture and of course in cuisine.
A popular recent addition to the food scene here is Ball Waffle Ball. Owner Aldous Lau brought his popular bubble waffle concept to the region when he moved from Hong Kong to northeast Ohio in 2017.
“I wanted to bring traditional food, culture to this area,” Lau said. “For many people, they know what a street snack is in Hong Kong, at least this kind of food, the bubble waffle.”
The Ball Ball Waffle storefront is located in Asia Plaza and is quickly becoming a popular stop for residents and visitors. Try one and you’ll understand why.
Lau got his start as a salesman at Cleveland Asian Festival in 2018. The annual weekend-long event is a way for businesses in AsiaTown to share their culture, products and food with a wider audience. At the heart of the festival is Lisa Wong, co-founder and co-producer of the event.
“It’s important to showcase Asian culture in the Greater Cleveland area,” Wong told 3News, “because not many people realize that there is an AsiaTown community here in Cleveland.”
After the pandemic canceled the festival in 2020 and set up a virtual event last year, the festival is back in person this year. Wong says it’s a way to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage while inviting others to learn something new.
“I’m so honored to be able to bring and present entertainment, food and culture to the community,” Wong added. “I think it helps people understand other cultures that are different from their own.”
Wong tells us that surveys of past festivals show that around a quarter of attendees had never been to AsiaTown before, but there’s so much to explore here – more than 20 restaurants, a dozen cultural shops and five Asian grocery stores.
“AsiaTown truly represents this cultural beacon for Asians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders across the region,” Karis Tzeng, director of AsiaTown Initiatives, said at Downtown Cleveland, mentioned. “It’s the only place like it in Ohio.”
AsiaTown’s future is bright – the community, anchored largely around Payne Avenue, is seeing new developments. Tzeng says the community’s vision is summed up in the phrase “Growing up at home.”
“The spirit of welcome is so important to our experience as humans and to feeling welcome in a place,” she explained. “I think AsiaTown can offer that to both Asian people and hopefully it can become welcoming to everyone.”
While respecting tradition, AsiaTown business owners are also looking to the future. Sheng Long Yu, owner of Dagu rice noodles, expands its menu and dining options in AsiaTown. He creates a 10,000 square foot food hall at the corner of 30th and Payne, moves Dagu into the new space and offers the latest trends in Asian cuisine.
“Whenever I go to a big city, say Chicago or New York or LA, there’s always something new and exciting,” he said. “That’s part of the idea, we want to bring all the new food trends to Cleveland so we don’t have to travel all over the world for it.”
From baos to dumplings to kebabs, Yu hopes the space will be a place to share meals and memories. One that will encourage city dwellers (and Cleveland natives) to stop and experience all that AsiaTown has to offer. Currently in the licensing phase, Yu hopes the new room will be open by the holidays.
“I think it’s something very important for me, my family and all my partners to contribute to the Asian community.”
The Cleveland Asian Festival takes place on May 21 and 22 this year, and you can find more information here.