By Len Ramirez

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — Downtown San Jose’s newest restaurant serves up a little taste of Hawaii. Hapa Musubi held its grand opening and welcomed dozens of customers who waited in line to buy the specialty snacks made of Spam and egg, chicken and seafood, all wrapped up between layers of rice and seaweed.

“I would say this is the staple snack of Hawaii,” said Hapa Musubi owner Nam Ngo. “Everyone is holding onto a musubi everywhere you go. You go to the beach and everyone’s got one before they jump into the water.”

The restaurant is opening on El Paseo de San Antonio, a wide walkway between San Jose State and Plaza de Cesar Chavez. But there are several closed and failed businesses all along the Paseo, demonstrating the downtown’s struggling retail market.

“Not a lot of people can look past the closing businesses,” Ngo said. “But here we are, we’re opening. We took the chance and we’re doing very well so far.”

Besides office and housing, a robust retail environment is an important component of a thriving downtown – but one that has eluded San Jose for decades.

Now, San Jose is launching a progam called Small Business Allies, in which multi-lingual city staff members help small businesses get a foothold in a challenging environment.

“They’re able to work with small businesses with all the intricacies of getting their permits filed, their inspections approved, and they can kind of concierge their way through the maze to make it happen and that’s what happened here,” said Elisabeth Handler, a San Jose Spokeswoman.

Ngo says opening the business was hard.

“We learned a lot along the way, we messed up a few things, but the team at the city of San Jose helped us,” said Ngo.

Customers welcomed the new restaurant and the choices it will bring to downtown diners.

“We used to come down here and there was not a lot going on. But now, we see more. We like it and appreciate it,” said Clint Spinelli.

With more downtown residential high rise buildings set to open in San Jose in coming months and years, city officials hope the retail market is on the brink of a positive tipping point for long term success.