Umami Mart launches weekly cafe

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Umami Mart Kissaten fruit sando with whipped cream and seasonal fruits. Credit: Umami Mart

Umami Market
4027 Broadway (near 40th Street), Oakland

Umami Market has been a mainstay of Oakland since 2012, a blog turned retail store that expanded in 2019 with a liquor store and bar. Now he’s ready to expand again with Umami Mart Kissaten, a weekend cafe with hand-poured drinks and traditional Japanese coffee sweets. This new offer is scheduled to open on October 17, with service every Sunday at limited times and for customers with tickets only.

The concept of Umami Mart began five years before the opening of its physical store: in 2007, co-founders Kayoko Akabori and Yoko Kumano – childhood friends who grew up next to each other in Cupertino – launched the Umami Mart blog as a way to share their latest food and drink discoveries while living separately in Tokyo and New York.

Both finally found their way back to the Bay Area in 2010 and launched an online store to accompany the blog. Two years later, that store’s inventory started to take up too much space in Kumano’s apartment, and they decided to take a risk on a retail space in downtown Oakland.

“The economy was still quite depressed [in 2012] So there was an opportunity for us to move into a retail space in downtown Oakland for six months rent-free through a program called Popuphood“Kumano told Nosh.

“We decided to take the plunge, believing that we would not have much to lose. Our product line included barware, glassware and housewares when we opened. It became pretty clear in those first two years that to complete the story in the store, we would like to sell sake, shochu, and whiskey.

While the company was allowed to sell beer and wine from 2015 and spirits from 2017, zoning rules prevented Akabori and Kumano from opening a tasting room or bar on site. Restrictions on their first space prompted them to relocate to their current location in Temescal, which opened in May 2019. The new space was designed to embody the spirit of Japanese kaku-uchi, an unpretentious combination of liquor store and bar: upon entering the boutique, the walls are carefully lined with a fine selection of Japanese beers, sake, shochu and spirits, as well as kitchen utensils, bar and Japanese snacks. Continue a few steps further into the back area of ​​the store, and a minimalist bar appears right after the chilled assortment of retail drinks.

On Sunday afternoon, the Umami Mart bar will turn into a cafe serving drinks brewed with Heart Roast Beans. Credit: Umami Mart

Umami Mart had a successful 2019 in this new location, launching its shochu gumi (a monthly shochu membership club to complement its 200+ member sake membership club, sake gumi). But less than a year later, the pandemic and the resulting trade restrictions forced Umami Mart to shut down.

“It was terrifying. How would we survive? Would we survive? Kumano talks about the Umami Mart closing in March 2020. “Fortunately, we had a working online store, with curbside pickup already enabled. We were so grateful to all of our regulars in Oakland and the surrounding area who placed their orders and came to our door with a smile, under masks, during these dark months. “

When the physical store temporarily closed, Akabori, Kumano and store manager Ian Rittmaster started talking about adding a coffee offering when the bar was cleared to reopen. With in-store shopping resumed and the bar reopened, the idea for Umami Mart Kissaten, a weekly café, took shape.

Umami Mart Kissaten will serve sweets like liquid manure, a caramel custard not unlike crème caramel or custard. Credit: Umami Mart

The Kissaten, which Akabori and Kumano say is the brainchild of Rittmaster, will feature hand-poured coffee from Portland’s Heart roasters, as well as traditional Japanese kissaten dishes such as manure (Japanese cream) and fruit. sando (Japanese sandwich made with white bread, seasonal fruits and whipped cream) by Maya Kono from San Francisco Roots & Craft Tea Roasters. Unlike a traditional cafe, it will not serve walk-in customers. Instead, customers should buy a $ 20 ticket in advance, and register for a seat between noon and 3 p.m. Each ticket includes a coffee drink and a candy, and the tip is included. Tickets for the full month’s time slots will drop on the first Wednesday and each visit is limited to 75 minutes. The restaurant expects tickets to the small bar to sell out very quickly, so interested diners should act quickly. Tickets for this Sunday service are available online now.

“After working with Yoko and Kayoko for curbside pickup during peak pandemic times, I think we started to go a little bit crazy, thinking of all the things we could possibly do once the things started to open up a bit more, then the idea came up to making a coffee service! ” said Rittmaster. “I have a background in coffee, so it’s always something [I had] in my back pocket.

In addition to his experience as a barista (his resume includes Blue Bottle Coffee from Oakland and Artis Coffee Roasters from Berkeley), Rittmaster was immersed in Japanese culture from an early age, a son born to parents who taught l English in Japan. Although he returned to the Bay Area at the age of three, his mother taught Japanese at a high school in Alamo and Rittmaster often joined her on annual trips to Japan with her students. While working at Blue Bottle in Jack London Square, Rittmaster first heard about Umami Mart from his customers.

From left to right: Kayoko Akabori, Yoko Kumano, Kayoko’s brother, Keisuke Akabori and Ian Rittmaster. The Umami Mart team was at Keisuke’s LA restaurant, Yojimbo, to celebrate the launch of Umami Mart’s Junmai Sake. Credit: Umami Mart

“I would ask customers and coworkers to bring stuff from Umami Mart all the time, but I wouldn’t go myself until they tidy the Old Oakland store and get ready to move to. the current location at the start of 2019, ”said Rittmaster. “Soon after, I was looking for work and was lucky enough to have a former colleague from the cafe who let me know that Umami Mart was looking for staff the day before the ad was posted! I jumped on it right away.

Of course, coffee isn’t the only new drink Umami Mart is launching into the world. In recent weeks, the store has also launched its own Junmai sake, made by the Kita Shuzo sake brewery in Shiga, Japan. Sake had been in the works for years, with production and shipping delayed due to the pandemic. Kumano notes that while the pandemic has posed challenges in the process of storing and purchasing property, the fight has also served to strengthen their partnerships.

“Our most successful products are made by people we love working with, who are passionate about their products and who have met in person,” said Kumano. “As we haven’t been able to go to Japan for quite some time, we have come to greatly appreciate our existing relationships during these times. Whether they live in Shiga, Japan or Los Angeles, the designers we continue to work and collaborate with are the ones who share a vision for spreading joy, whether through design, drink or Japanese culture. .

When asked about the future of Umami Mart, Kumano mentions that the store is constantly evolving, but never tied to a specific end goal. “Kayoko and I always have something up our sleeves, and there will always be more from Umami Mart,” Kumano said. “We will continue to organize events and popups with collaborators that we like to work with. Our process has always been organic – we follow the ideas that excite us! “

Umami Mart is currently open for in-store purchases Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. The bar is open on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 6 p.m. must be purchased online. For updates on opening hours and events, visit Umami Mart’s website and follow Umami Mart on Instagram.

Credit: Umami Mart



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