International Businesses Downtown Give Customers Unique Culture Experience

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COLUMBIA - Out of Columbia's 300 or so restaurants and stores, there are a lot of international options, especially in the downtown area. You can find Thai, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian food and more. Each option offers a different type of experience.

One popular spot is Lollicup located on Ninth Street. The business offers Taiwanese "boba milk tea" with different flavors.

"You can use a big straw and suck the boba and drink it together," said Co-Owner Jocelyn Kuo. "It's fun and very tasty."

Although the drink is from Taiwan, Kuo said 70 percent of her customers are not international. She has even noticed some customers will add boba into non-milk tea drinks because they like it so much.

Recently, Kuo also brought another Taiwanese food to the store called "snowfluff," which has become more and more popular among her customers.

"I think that's kinda of a really good thing for this community," said Kuo. "Can I accept outside food, drinks and everything? Because it's totally different, I feel proud of selling this product. It's because it's not the drink, it's about Taiwanese culture."

Geisha Sushi Bar is another place people can try some different food. Sushi is originally a Japanese word, but it brings manager Shawn Lee a mostly non-international customer base.

"They don' t have any difficulty of trying it out," Lee said.

Lee said he felt eating sushi has become a new trend in the city. He also said his restaurant is unique since its customers can closely see the ingredients of the food from a showcase while chefs are making sushi. 

"They asked a lot about fish and how this works out," Lee said.

Downtown leaders say international restaurants and stores play an important role in local economy. They don't only promote different cultures, Carrie Gartner, director of the District, said they also bring diversity to downtown businesses.

"It really makes a much better experience for people," said Gartner. "They get to learn about a wide range of food, a wide range of customs."

Gartner also said three colleges surround the area, so there is a multi-national student body where the students also miss food from their home nations and the restaurants and stores give them good places to go.