Little Mekong: Transitions: University Ave

How will Little Mekong, self-described as "a business and cultural district, a destination for Asian cultures, food, and shopping," survive the CCLRT construction?

Interviewed by: May Yang
Photos by: Tanisha Brandt, Little Mekong
Editing Mentorship: Catherine Squires (University of Minnesota)


On February 25, 2012 the Asian Economic Development Association successfully launched Little Mekong.  Little Mekong is a five block area of University Avenue from Galtier to Mackubin Street, near the Minnesota State Capitol.  Little Mekong consists of over one hundred small local businesses.  These stores offer authentic cuisine, clothing, gifts and services from the many cultures that comprise Minnesota’s Asian population. The goal of Little Mekong is to sustain a thriving business and culture destination.  Additionally, Little Mekong allows Asian businesses to work together and provide resources to support the neighboring communities.  The grand opening entitled, “Taste of Little Mekong,” was held at Mai Village.  The activities included a walking tasting tour where visitors sampled authentic Southeast Asian foods from several little Mekong restaurants.  The event drew over a hundred visitors.  We had the opportunity to speak to five of these visitors and hear their thoughts about the event and the Central Corridor Light Rail construction.

With all the great aromas and taste on this avenue, why don’t you make a statement to say: hey, we’re part of this community as well.  So welcome to Little Mekong.

Can you tell us your name and what part of the Twin Cities you live in?

I’m Sheldon Bolstad and I live in South Minneapolis near Lake Nokomis.  

My name is Jose Gonzalez and I live on the Greater East Side of St. Paul.

My name is Kenna Poplar and I live in South Minneapolis.

My name is Willie Moore and I live in Minneapolis Minnesota.

My name is Kim and I’ve been through a lot of places throughout the Twin Cities but currently I live in Fridley.

How often do you visit University Avenue?

At least once a week.

Um, as often as possible.

During this time of year I’m over quite a bit because we perform over here a lot, but I usually come here about once a month.

Which stores or restaurants have you been to before? What do you like about this area?

I’ve been to Mai Village before and I’ve been to Saigon, so some of the restaurants and the retail stores, and I like that there’s a really good diversity of places to eat and to shop.

I like the diversity of the different people that are around here, I like the community as a whole.

I’ve been eating and cooking Asian food for 25 years and so I’m intimately familiar with most of the places along University Avenue and Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis.

Did you know that this part of University Avenue will be under construction soon for the light rail?

Absolutely, and I’m really excited and hoping it goes fast.

How might the construction affect you if you want or need to get over here in the coming weeks?

You know, this part of University Avenue has a lot of other side streets so you can get around to the side and the back actually pretty easy, whereas farther down on University Avenue is a little tougher. But this side is pretty good.

I think the construction will definitely make it more difficult to travel down University in terms of commuting to work.

I’ve seen a lot of it going on already like over by the Vietnam Center, and it seems like it’s going to be a pretty big hassle for people. I figure traffic’s going to be pretty bad, we’re going to have to take a lot of back roads and stuff.

Well, I think it’s important that local businesses be supported, so I’m not going to let the traffic deter me, you know the road construction, deter me. I’m hopeful that they’ll make accommodations for the businesses so it’s not too difficult to get over here. Cause I drove further up along University last summer and some of them they had blocked off the cross streets for considerable distances, so it did make it difficult to get to some stores, so I hope that they’ll change that.

What do you think about the light rail project, do you think it will affect you?

I think the light rail project is gonna be beneficial overall, but it will definitely affect myself and other commuters in terms of transportation time.

I think that once it’s finished it will be more convenient, but right now it’s more of an inconvenience to most of the civilians.

Well, yeah, I mean it will make it  a little more difficult to get here for get lunch, I mean I go for Banh Mi, eat at several of the Thai restaurants along here, it will be a little more difficult. In the long term, it’s a great thing, and we’ll be able to come over here for lunch on the weekends getting on the light rail near our house and connecting in Minneapolis and coming over here, so we’re real excited about it.

Made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.