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A day at Arko with Susie Fong

Susie Fong
Susie Fong is the owner of Arko Foods International, a Filipino grocery store and turo turo market in Glendale.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)
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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.

Susie Fong is the owner of Arko Foods International, a Filipino grocery store and turo turo market in Glendale.
Lunch-time customers line up at the turo turo hot-food counter inside Arko Foods International, while the staff prepares and cooks the food in the open kitchen.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

A member of the staff helps a customer at the turo turo hot-food counter at Arko Foods International.
A member of the staff helps a customer at the turo turo hot-food counter at Arko Foods International.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

I’m at the turo turo. I’m at the grocery store. I’m at the combination turo turo and grocery store.

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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.

Some of the day’s many offerings at the Arko Foods International
Some of the day’s many offerings at the Arko Foods International include fresh lumbia ubod, a veggie and heart of palm spring rolls; oxtail kare kare from chef Ray Tabo of Pampanga, served with a side of bagoong sauce; lumpia pork Shanghai, served with a side of sweet and sour sauce; bistek Tagalog (beef stak with onions); pork BBQ skewers served with a side of atchara; roast beef with mushroom gravy; assorted kakanin, including biko, biko ube, sapin sapin, casava makapuno, kutchinta puto, bibinka and pichi pichi.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Chef Pilar Araula from Bohol, a province of the Philippines, in the country’s Central Visayas region, cooks her specialties in the open kitchen at Arko Foods International.
Chef Pilar Araula from Bohol, a province of the Philippines, in the country’s Central Visayas region, cooks her specialties in the open kitchen at Arko Foods International.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

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.

Customers enjoy a lunch on the patio at Arko Foods International.
Customers enjoy a lunch on the patio at Arko Foods International.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Seafood section staff helps a customer select the freshest fish at Arko Foods International.
Seafood section staff helps a customer select the freshest fish at Arko Foods International.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

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“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.”

Arko Foods International owner Susie Fong, joined by her staff
Arko Foods International owner Susie Fong, center, joined by her staff, from left: chef Naning Miculob, who is from Bohol; Pilar Araula, also from Bohol; pastry chef Elmer Mendoza, from Batangas; chef Ray Tabo, from Pampanga; chef Clarie Ilocos, from Rodas; and store manager Alona Bautista, from Manila.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)


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