By Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host Published Jul 09, 2024 at 11:02 AM

According to his obituary at Schmidt & Bartelt, Carmelino Reyes Capati Jr. passed away on June 25, 2024 at the age of 82.

Longtime Milwaukeeans might recognize the name.

For 38 years, Capati Jr. operated The Asian Mart, located at 1125 N Old World 3rd St., now the home of Uncle Buck’s and Red Star.

Born in the province of Pampanga in the Philippines, he came to Wisconsin in 1971, initially hoping to pursue a law degree. Instead, by 1974, he decided to take what little capital he had and invest it in the creation of a grocery store that carried a wide variety of products from countries throughout Southeastern Asia from China and the Philippines to Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea and more. In doing so, he invested in both his love for business and the joy he cultivated through socialization.

Long before Filipino cuisine was widely acknowledged in the United States, Capati Jr. created a source for imported ingredients and a hub for members of the Filipino community to check in and share news about their homeland. He also built a reputable, accessible grocery store where home cooks and chefs could find ingredients that weren’t widely available.

But – maybe most memorably – he created a store that was inclusive, welcoming and frequently filled with joy and laughter. 

The latter is what I remember most about my visits to The Asian Mart, where I would visit when I couldn’t find an ingredient like dried shrimp or an unusual vegetable or spice blend. It seemed that Mr. Capati was always behind the counter when I arrived. Even better, he was always more than happy to help me find what I needed and, even more, sell it to me for what was usually a total of $10 or, as he would say: “10,0000 pennies.” 

I’m not the only one.

In an email regarding Capati Jr.’s passing, Donna H. Smith shared a few of her memories. And, as I read them, I realized they would probably resonate with many who visited The Asian Mart during its nearly four decades in business.

“As a chef myself (now retired), I was very happy to discover his store soon after moving to Milwaukee in 1980. At that time it was really one of the only places to find things like jasmine rice and hoisin sauce - which now can be found in virtually every grocery store of course. Loving Asian flavors as I do, I visited him often.

"He was just a joy. If your bill at his store was $26.42, for example, he always would say it as "two thousand, six hundred, forty-two pennies - please," with a little chuckle and smile. I always left his store with a smile on my face.”

Lori Fredrich Senior Food Writer, Dining Editor, Podcast Host

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.