February 16, 2015
When people ask Yoko or myself if it was “always in the plan” to turn Umami Mart into a brick and mortar shop, the answer is always “no.” We do get this question quite often. But back in 2007 when we started our blog, I was living in Brooklyn and Yoko was in Tokyo, on completely different career paths. Blogging for Umami Mart was simply a hobby; something we did during work hours, hunched over in our sad cubicles. Did we ever think we would both move back to the Bay Area and pursue our food blog as a legitimate business? It wasn’t totally out of the question, but we never started the blog thinking we would end up opening a Japanese kitchen and barware shop.
Contrary to this, when we opened Umami Mart, our brick and mortar shop in Oakland, in 2012, we did have big dreams of one day selling alcohol. Since drinkware is our specialty, it only makes sense, right? Plus, Yoko worked at the Takara Sake Tasting Room in Berkeley, and I had bartended for years, so you could say we’re pretty passionate about booze. We prepared documents to obtain the licenses, just days after we opened the shop, and sent them off to the California Alcohol and Beverage Control Department. Oh yah baby, any day now…
Boy, were we naive! Little did we think that it would be THE HARDEST ACHIEVEMENT ON THE PLANET to be granted a license to sell bottles for people to drink at home (they call this “off-sale”). We jumped through so many hoops, paid up thousands of dollars, and withstood many “NOs!” and “You can’t do that!” and “These are the laws!” I won’t bore you with the details, but it has taken almost three years of talking to city council people, city zoning people, the Mayor, our neighbors, property owners, state agents… to finally be able to hang our license on the wall!
Can you see our blood, sweat and tears all over this?
Yes, we’re excited. We’d like to think that this is a big deal. I mean, we are AMERICA’S FIRST JAPANESE BEER SHOP! We will be carrying any and all specialty beers from Japan (called ji-biru) that we can get through distributors in California (read: we ourselves do not import beers from Japan). To start, we’ve got over 25 beers! Yes, Hitachino and so much more!
I can say with confidence that I have never seen this many Japanese beers in one place outside of Japan. Not even Mitsuwa or Marukai have such a vast selection. Japan is chock full of microbreweries and we hope that more beers will make their way over to this side of the Pacific. We will be growing our selection slowly, with also a line of sakes hand-picked by Yoko, our CERTIFIED SAKE PROFESSIONAL. But wait till March for that. Your patience will be rewarded.
Besides beers and sakes, we’ll also carry wine and vermouths. We were so happy to launch our bottle shop with vermouth by Sutton Cellars and a white wine from Yamanashi, Japan!
We hope to find more wines from Japan. But you can imagine how hard that will be — wineries in Japan are notorious for only making enough cases to satisfy the domestic market. We hope to help change their minds.
And to add to our cooking ingredients in our Conbini, we can finally sell MIRIN!
Although mirin is mainly for cooking, not drinking, we could not sell it until now because it is designated as a “sake” in California. It’s such an important ingredient in Japanese cooking and we are so happy to have it available to you all.
Since our license is for beer and wine only, you won’t find any distilled spirits here, unfortunately. That’s including shochu. But don’t worry, we’ll start working on that shortly. We must keep our dreams alive! Also, the alcohol is for at-home consumption, so you won’t actually be able to drink anything in the shop. Sorry!
But turn that frown upside down: YES, we will have the bottles for online sales in the next few months. YES, we are inviting Anders over here to design the bottle shop and having a grand opening celebration in April. YESSS.
Please come visit us soon! America’s First Japanese Beer Shop and much more!