A few years ago, Nellie and Chris Tran moved from San Francisco back to their hometown in the San Gabriel Valley to raise their son, who was 1 at the time. While there were plenty of shopping plazas — and restaurants — to explore, there wasn’t much room for their son to run around, except the parking lots. The couple thought the area was lacking the types of public gathering spaces they’d seen in other cities.
The city of San Gabriel needed a food hall, they thought, something similar to Grand Central Market and Anaheim Packing House, a space that would bring diverse communities together through food, performances and art.
In 2018, the Trans started the process of transforming a former Masonic lodge in the historic San Gabriel Mission District into Blossom Market Hall. There were pandemic delays that slowed construction, but they never stopped working on it, and they plan to open in September.
“We’re essentially creating a public space that’s centered around food,” said Nellie Tran.
Blossom Market Hall will host 13 vendors, featuring a variety of cuisines, including Caribbean, Korean and Mexican fare. There will be vegan burgers, a twist on banh mi and Southern-style barbecue.
The stalls will occupy the ground floor of the retrofitted 11,700-square-foot space, where there is also a stage for live entertainment. Blossom’s community space will be upstairs in the 72-year-old building, with a skylighted Wi-Fi lounge and event room that can be booked for meetings, art exhibitions and parties. The ceiling is adorned with a striking mural of colorful California wildflowers, designed by Nao Miyamoto of office42architecture, a nod to Nellie Tran’s love for the Markthal market hall in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Blossom has been three years in the making for the Trans, who are newcomers to the culinary scene. Nellie Tran has held various office jobs and had written for a neighborhood blog in San Francisco about city developments and restaurant openings. Chris Tran, a retired research scientist and avid cyclist, was interested in city infrastructure. (The couple had been involved in the San Francisco bicycling community and began traveling to cities such as Copenhagen and Strasbourg, France, where bicycling is among the primary forms of transportation.)
“These experiences and travels informed our views on the built environment and led us to understand the importance of building sustainable, walkable and bike-able communities,” Nellie Tran said. “How the infrastructure is built and also how even private real estate projects can impact a community through its design and use of space.”
Chris Tran co-developed two U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved prostate cancer drugs, and when they were licensed, he was able to use that money to fund some of their food hall. The couple, who are financing the entire project on their own, haven’t run a business before except for some residential rental properties they’ve self-managed. Now, they’re building Blossom and a real estate development company together.
“We are learning as we are going, and we try to learn from those we have hired around us to help us,” Nellie Tran said.
The San Gabriel city government has wanted to revitalize the historic district and embraced the plans for the food hall. (Before the Trans took over the building, Freemasons used the Masonic lodge for private meetings and rented it out for private events like weddings.) In their early stages of planning, the couple held a town hall for local residents and other stakeholders, worked with the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce and sent out surveys to the community asking for input on what kinds of food was wanted.
“Some people feel that there’s this disconnect between the Chinese-speaking community and the businesses down on Valley Boulevard, versus stuff more in the north, like in Pasadena …,” said Nellie Tran. “We see ourselves as bridging that because we want to be welcoming to both groups — and they can come together.”
Yonette Alleyne is one of the vendors who will occupy a stall with her Caribbean Gourmet business. The chef, who built a name for herself at farmers markets and through catering, is from Guyana, and her food is influenced by the diverse South American country that has a mixture of African, Indian and Chinese cultures. Her menu will include oxtail stew, Indian-style curries, Guyanese patties and jerk chicken, as well as vegan and gluten-free options.
“I’m happy to bring my food to a community where the people probably don’t know a lot about my food,” said Alleyne.
At La Olla, Joei Miu and Antonio Aguilar will serve dishes such as a Sinaloa-style ceviche and dorados de camarón, paired with a seafood consommé. (The couple met while working at a restaurant in Houston that belongs to Miu’s Vietnamese father, who has been serving Mexican-style seafood to customers for years.) They started a dessert company after they moved to Las Vegas and have continued running the business since moving to L.A. six years ago. Miu’s creations, like her passion fruit and guava panna cotta, will be on the menu.
As frequent San Gabriel Valley visitors, they found it hard to find a place other than the Westfield Santa Anita mall or boba shops to walk around, socialize and eat. “We’re really excited to be a part of the SGV community, and to have a place where people can come together for good food and music, and people can hang out and work there,” Miu said.
Helen Chau and her fiancé, Timothy Diep, are launching their first beer and wine bar, Angel & Mason, at Blossom. Chau, who was previously a paralegal, and Diep, who works in the wholesale industry, will serve beer and wine from local businesses, like Ohana Brewing Co. and San Antonio Winery. They’ll also carry sake- and soju-based cocktails with flavors such as lychee, dragon fruit and tamarind.
“We’ve never been in this industry before, which is kind of scary to us, but also, we just want to bring our passions to this and make it our dream project,” Chau said.
Like their vendors, the Trans have made Blossom their passion project. “We see ourselves as kind of a new generation of developers that are bringing projects that are not just a box,” said Nellie Tran, projects that “have a soul and are trying to better the community … and actually physically build better places for people.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.