Santo Market serves up poké bowls, mochi and more in San Jose’s Japantown


A FEAST FOR FOODIES — Santo Market’s Mark Santo said their poké bowls have been “carrying” them through the pandemic. The San Jose Japantown market also serves strawberry mochi and pork buns (top). photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Santo Market, located on the corner of North Sixth Street and East Taylor Street in San Jose’s Japantown, is more than a Japanese American and Asian American grocery store. The market, which first opened in 1946 on Jackson Street before moving to its current location in 1957, sells a variety of dishes, including poké bowls, strawberry mochi, pork buns and Portuguese sausage and eggs.

“This has been what’s been kind of carrying us during the pandemic,” Mark Santo, a third generation market owner, told the Nichi Bei Weekly of the poké bowls. He said the dish gave the store “an identity” and believes they will help the store to gain popularity. The store started making the dish in 2014, he said.

George Santo, Santo’s father’s uncle, started the business before handing it to Mark Santo’s father, Earl, and eventually to Mark Santo. Mark Santo began working for the store in high school and returned to work there after graduating college from San Jose State University.

The market has made some changes due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. They transformed a coffee service window into a service window, and no longer allow customers to enter the store. Santo said these changes have made store operations “a little bit better” for them. He added that they aren’t planning to re-open their doors anytime soon and will continue to serve customers from the window.

The store also reduced some of its grocery items, while continuing to sell the “main basics,” he said. Santo said they used to have nori (seaweed) packs of 10, 15, 30 and 50, but now just carry packs of 10, 15 and 20. The store used to sell 10 different types of mirin, but now, they carry just three or four types.

Another bestseller on their menu is the market’s strawberry mochi. Santo said they introduced the confectionery to their store when his parents returned from a trip to Hawai‘i and mentioned they had tried strawberry daifuku on their trip.

Santo said their pork buns have been a market staple for more than two decades, and are unique compared to other places because “ours are stuffed with a lot of meat,” he said.

Mark Santo. photo by Kenji G. Taguma/Nichi Bei Weekly

Santo said his family has inquired about the next generation taking over the market and “they have been talking about some changes they may want to do,” including “making the store progress into the new type of economy that we have now.”

However, Santo said he would like to continue running the store, to “mainly (leave) a legacy for my mom and dad for what they have established and what they have built up over here.”

Santo Market is located at 245 E. Taylor Street in San Jose’s Japantown. They are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (408) 295-5406.

Kelly Yokoi and Ryan Yamamoto contributed to this article.

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