'Mrs. Kim' converts restaurant into food market

After trying for nearly a year to get Rock Hillians hooked on Cajun food, Kim Nguyen is changing course at her building on Saluda Street.

The woman known as "Mrs. Kim" has turned New Orleans Cajun Seafood restaurant into the Rock Hill Market, a grocery and convenience store that sells everything from fruits and meats to lottery tickets.

"The community around here doesn't have a market," she said. "We have a lot of local people that don't have transportation. With the restaurant, you can only sell food. At the market, we sell food and produce. You go one place."

The old Hardee's on the northern end of Saluda near downtown sat empty for three years before Nguyen and her husband, Lang, moved in late last year.

The Nguyens spent months on renovations, from a new roof to flowers and a gazebo out front. They hoped locals could be tempted to try the Cajun samples that Nguyen offers for free.

It didn't quite work out that way. So, Mrs. Kim hopes a new concept will attract more customers. Hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays.

Nguyen's parents came to New Orleans from Vietnam when she was a child. For nearly 30 years, she lived on the Gulf Coast, taking culinary classes and learning the restaurant business.

Then, she and her family came to Rock Hill to be closer to relatives in Fort Mill. Eight months after they got here, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, destroying the homes and lives of many people she knew. That's why Nguyen often points out that her situation could be worse.