Smile Politely

An interview and walkthrough of Green Onion and Fresh International Market

The Champaign-Urbana community is thankful for the wide variety of available grocery options for an area of our size. Both located on South Neil Street, Green Onion and Fresh International Market are two Asian markets present on a main thoroughfare of Champaign. Since area residents likely drive by both stores more often than they have the chance to stop-in and look around, I took time one weekend to walk through and take pictures of what both grocers offered.

Exterior of Green Onion with two large bushes near the extrance, which is a single door requiring a pull to open. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Not far from the Harvest Market complex, Green Onion Asian Market is on the east side of South Neil Street. Catering to people that prefer the small grocer experience, Green Onion has three aisles packed with a variety of food and cooking items. 

Narrow aisles that comfortably fit one person. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Containers are found near the entrance with a collection of frozen treats nearby.

Various fruity frozen treats in the chest freezer with the Melona brand prominently displayed. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Green Onion has a fresh vegetables and general refrigerated items section with enough for a solid meal.

As far as dry goods go, Green Onion has you covered with instant ramen, as that section is well-stocked and has a lot to pick from.

Close-up view of more than a dozen varieties of ramen. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

There is also a sizeable frozen dumpling and pot sticker area, so take your time looking through it. This store has a Gochujang section with tubs bigger than my hand. For those unfamiliar, Gochujang is a popular Korean pepper paste where a small spoonful is enough to flavor an entire dish.

Shelves containing at least half-a-dozen varieties of Korean bean and pepper pastes, including Gochujang. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Near the register, there is also an area where Green Onion sells freshly made salads, noodles, kimchi, and more. Also, do not forget the cute notebook and writing implements shelf at the register. Roughly the size of a convenience store, I recommend Green Onion if you want your grocery trip short and not overwhelmed with options.

Exterior of Fresh International Market with two automatic sliding doors. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

However, if you are willing to spend more time shopping for groceries, Fresh International Market is a larger version of Green Onion with more grocery sections. For example, Fresh International Market sells freshly made hot treats and breads.

Various hot bun and egg-based treats behind small glass doors. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

When a pandemic is not ongoing, they also have a pay-by-the-pound food bar. Alcohol is sold right around this area, as well.

Aisle endcap full of boxes of Pocky, a branded crispy stick half-dipped in flavored chocolate. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Pocky enthusiasts will be pleased at the Pocky wall. Anyone who cannot get enough kimchi will rejoice at the largest display of jarred kimchi I’ve ever seen.

Fresh produce and refrigerated goods are also plentiful at Fresh International Market.

Chilled glass jars of kimchi of various sizes and varieties on three lower shelving units. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

For those interested, the fresh seafood section is located right next to the precut meats, so do not be surprised when you see movement out of the corner of your eye.  

Tillapia swimming in tanks for $5.99 per pound that must be purchased more than 30 minutes prior to Fresh International Market closing. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

The other half of Fresh International Market is packed with dry goods such as teas, coffee, dry noodles, ramen, frozen meals, and sauces.

Aisle in other half of store with many sauces on display amongst the five shelf levels. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

The frozen food and household items are more extensive than Green Onion, so take your time looking. As with any grocery store, there is an assortment of things for sale near the checkout counters. Of special note during a pandemic are the masks and bottles of hand sanitizer, so do not forget to stock up as you checkout.

Discount items on sale near the Fresh International Market checkout, including masks and hand sanitizer. Photo by Matthew Macomber.

Photo by Matthew Macomber.

After perusing both locations, I interviewed Bowen Kou, Executive of Fresh International Market and Green Onion. We discussed how these grocery stores came to our area and what is popular at both stores right now.

Smile Politely: Can you introduce yourself and tell us how Green Onion and Fresh International Market began? 

Bowen Kou: My name is Bowen Kou. My first Asian market was established in 2012 in East Lansing, Michigan. Fresh International Market Champaign was my third store after having two in East Lansing, Michigan and one in West Lafayette, Indiana. During our remodeling in 2016, Green Onion’s previous owner contacted me and wanted to sell her store to me. I bought her store in July 2016.

SP: What is the most difficult part about running grocery stores?

Kou: The most difficult part is recruiting skilled employees.

SP: How do you choose what to stock at Green Onion and what to stock at Fresh International Market?

Kou: We have store managers who are responsible for purchasing inventory.  I usually don’t interfere with the store’s purchasing. Since we have a larger store in Fresh International Market, we have greater variety. I tend to keep Green Onion stocked just like the previous management so customers know what they are getting when they go to Green Onion. 

SP: What seasonal items are in stock at either of your grocery stores that Champaign-Urbana residents should give a try?

Kou: In the current season for summer, I would like to recommend fresh lychee and our Korean cold noodles.

SP: Is there anything at Green Onion or Fresh International Market that is surprisingly popular right now?

Kou: Yes, our lychee is just in season.

SP: Do you have anything you want to say to the readership of Smile Politely and the Champaign-Urbana community? 

Kou: We are dedicated to serving the Champaign-Urbana community and you are welcome to check out our stores.

Green Onion Asian Market
2020 S. Neil St
Su-Th 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
F+Sa 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Fresh International Market
505 S. Neil St
Su-Th 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
F+Sa 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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