Not long ago, I walked into the Marukai Market in Torrance and I was aghast to see the shelves mostly empty. “Closing Soon” signs were everywhere. I found this hard to believe because the store is almost always busy. When I asked one of the employees, he said that they weren’t going to close and that they were in the midst of a renovation.
They must have planned this well because it didn’t seem like the market was closed for any length of time. I was surprised to see a new large exterior sign “Tokyo Central” take the place of what was once Marukai. One thing was for certain, they installed a lot of new overhead lights as the place was noticeably brighter from the street.
I was unaware of this, but last year the Japanese corporation, Don Quijote, purchased the Marukai Market chain and has begun rebranding the chain as Tokyo Central. Their locations include West Covina, Costa Mesa and now, Torrance.
The produce section is what you first see as you enter. Tokyo Central has expanded the number of fruit and vegetable offerings. What’s different from Marukai is the amount of fresh fruit that is now available. Large fruit can be found in smaller offerings as they have large fruit that is pre-cut for smaller needs.
Don Quijote must excel in marketing to Americans. The store had improved lighting and it was much easier to find items on the shelves. Much of the signage was clearly written in English. Sake was accompanied with tasting notes and recommended food pairings. Even the people supplying samples were occasionally saying “free samples” instead of solely speaking in Japanese.
The Fresh Fish Bar was new and they had made-to-order Sushi Bowls, Poke and Sushi Burritos. Seeing three different types of bluefin tuna offerings made me quickly realize that they were serious about their fish. Poke bowls are $9.98 and feature unlimited toppings such as green onion, avocado, furikake and imitation crab.
MamMoth Bakery’s cellophaned packaged baked bread and pastries are still available. In that same area, they have the prepared foods. They have increased the amount of prepared sushi as well. What caught my eye was the inari combo. I’ve never seen inari sushi filled with something other than plain white rice.
Tokyo Central increased the inventory by going vertical. Shelves for their dry good were quite high – in fact, I wasn’t able to grab something off of the topmost shelf and I wonder if the average person would ask for assistance.
Marukai’s Hawaiian goods are still available. There was a section dedicated for beverages like Hawaiian Sun and an area for dry goods (e.g, Kona coffee, macadamia nuts and cookies). They even increased the size of their display of Hawaiian chocolates.
I think Tokyo Central did an admirable job at preserving the best of Marukai and extending it with current trends. They have expanded on the Japanese food offerings and have managed to market it in a way that will be better understood by its non Japanese speaking customers.
Tokyo Central, 3832 W Sepulveda Blvd. Torrance, CA 90505