Susie Fong, the 55-year-old owner of Arko Foods International in Glendale, was born into the food business. In the Philippines, her mother owned a handful of markets and ran a company that supplied local ingredients to U.S. naval bases. When the authoritarian regime of Ferdinand Marcos came to power in the 1970s, the elder Fong quietly began shipping items like fish sauce and dried pancit to Filipinos who had been granted political asylum and were living on military bases in California.
I’m at the turo turo. I’m at the grocery store. I’m at the combination turo turo and grocery store.
In 1980, nearly a decade before the first Seafood City opened near San Diego, the Fong family established an importing business in Glendale that became one of the first large-scale distributors of Filipino ingredients in the U.S., eventually supplying family-owned grocery stores up and down the West Coast. The Fongs also opened a market of their own, intended to serve the growing Pinoy community in nearby Eagle Rock named for the famous Arkong Bato (stone archway) in the family’s hometown of Valenzuela City, Metro Manila.
When Susie Fong immigrated to Los Angeles in 1983 to help her mother run Arko, she recalls that the market had already become so popular it rivaled an adjacent Ralph’s in the same plaza. “There was always a line out the door and people would fight for parking spots,” Fong says.
“We fried so much fish for our customers,” she said, referring to a now common practice at Filipino markets of offering to cook fish bought on-site, “that the smell traveled all the way to Ralph’s. They would come over and complain to us about it.”