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How the internet saved Hogetsu Bakery

And why the small business's mochi days may be numbered anyway

A chofu: pancaked wrapped mochi cake
A chofu: pancaked wrapped mochi cake

For 37 years, Masa and Haru Takeda have made and served Japanese tea cakes in their tiny Chula Vista shop, Hogetsu Bakery. Primarily, they offer mochi, the chewy, glutinous rice cakes enjoyed with tea and on special occasions in the land of the rising sun.

Place

Hogetsu Bakery

1210 Third Avenue, Chula Vista

When Hogetsu first opened, they worked seven days a week, kept busy by an aging contingency of war brides, the Japanese wives who came back in the arms of American soldiers following World War II. By e thtime that nostalgic generation began to pass on, younger members of Chula Vista’s diverse community had discovered the sweet, gummy-like treats, keeping the Takedas in steady business over the years. Steady, that is, until the pandemic struck, and the small business took a big hit.

It was around Father’s Day that Chula Vista realtor Edna Mitchell shared a photo of Hogetsu mochi to the Facebook group Eating and Drinking in San Diego, along with a warning the shop “had a much bigger display/variety” prior to covid-19, and was “possibly closing down” due to a slowdown in business. Members of the sometimes quarrelsome, always hungry group were quick to decide they would not let that happen, and stepped up en masse to save the day.

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The jovial shop owners talk back and forth to tell me what happened next, the way close couples sometimes do.

“We had lines going all the way to the back, every single day,” says Masa. “It never stopped!”

A masked Masa Takeda, standing in his Japanese tea cake shop of 37 years

“Everything sold out,” Haru interjects, “So we had to produce more.”

“We worked 'til 2 or 3 in the morning,” adds the husband.

“Chaos!” laughs the wife. “It was unexpected, it was very unexpected.”

The Takedas don’t use computers, so they didn’t see the surge in customers coming, and while it’s given their struggling business a boost, they find humor in the idea there may have been a bit of misunderstanding. They did move their entire selection of mochi — which includes strawberry, green tea, coconut, and other flavors — into a single glass counter. But they tell me the main reason they did so is that they’re getting older, and no longer had the patience to walk ten feet back and forth between cases while customers picked over the flavors they wanted.

As for the talk of closing the shop? “We’re getting to the age of retiring,” says Haru.

A selection of mochi, glutinous rice cakes (clockwise from left): green tea, strawberry, pineapple, orange, coconut

They don’t know exactly when they will end Hogetsu’s run, but want to do so by choice, rather than when they’re forced to by age or health. “There’s a Japanese saying,” Masa explains, “If wait until you fall to buy a cane, you’re too late. Before you fall, buy a cane.”

Masa Takeda has been making traditional mochi for fifty years. He spent three years learning to do so in his native Kyoto, Japan, and the skill earned him a visa to the U.S. by virtue of the cultural contribution he would bring. He first set up shop in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, where he met his wife, a third-generation Japanese-American. He tells me he decided to move to San Diego during a 1980s visit to San Clemente. To the north, he saw traffic and smog. To the south, he saw blue skies and open spaces. And so they settled in Chula Vista.

The pink and yellow striped, more chewy mochi

Miscommunication or otherwise, Hogetsu continues to enjoy a resurgence thanks to the patronage of socially networked foodies, and the Takedas express extreme gratitude. What’s certain is, for whatever reason, San Diegans may not have much longer to appreciate and enjoy the sweet and authentic Japanese treats Hogetsu Bakery provides, such as the chofu, a piece of mochi wrapped in a crepe, impressed with a small flower graphic.

In other words, we should keep the long lines coming. Just don’t be surprised if the Takedas encourage you to visit one of the other small businesses next door, whether the Panda Imperial Chinese restaurant, or Los Primos Birria. When Hogetsu does close, they would like to see other local businesses survive.

“The small stores, we are 90 percent of businesses in the United States,” says Masa, “Those are the ones getting hurt [by the pandemic.] I want to help the local, small stores.”

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A chofu: pancaked wrapped mochi cake
A chofu: pancaked wrapped mochi cake

For 37 years, Masa and Haru Takeda have made and served Japanese tea cakes in their tiny Chula Vista shop, Hogetsu Bakery. Primarily, they offer mochi, the chewy, glutinous rice cakes enjoyed with tea and on special occasions in the land of the rising sun.

Place

Hogetsu Bakery

1210 Third Avenue, Chula Vista

When Hogetsu first opened, they worked seven days a week, kept busy by an aging contingency of war brides, the Japanese wives who came back in the arms of American soldiers following World War II. By e thtime that nostalgic generation began to pass on, younger members of Chula Vista’s diverse community had discovered the sweet, gummy-like treats, keeping the Takedas in steady business over the years. Steady, that is, until the pandemic struck, and the small business took a big hit.

It was around Father’s Day that Chula Vista realtor Edna Mitchell shared a photo of Hogetsu mochi to the Facebook group Eating and Drinking in San Diego, along with a warning the shop “had a much bigger display/variety” prior to covid-19, and was “possibly closing down” due to a slowdown in business. Members of the sometimes quarrelsome, always hungry group were quick to decide they would not let that happen, and stepped up en masse to save the day.

Sponsored
Sponsored

The jovial shop owners talk back and forth to tell me what happened next, the way close couples sometimes do.

“We had lines going all the way to the back, every single day,” says Masa. “It never stopped!”

A masked Masa Takeda, standing in his Japanese tea cake shop of 37 years

“Everything sold out,” Haru interjects, “So we had to produce more.”

“We worked 'til 2 or 3 in the morning,” adds the husband.

“Chaos!” laughs the wife. “It was unexpected, it was very unexpected.”

The Takedas don’t use computers, so they didn’t see the surge in customers coming, and while it’s given their struggling business a boost, they find humor in the idea there may have been a bit of misunderstanding. They did move their entire selection of mochi — which includes strawberry, green tea, coconut, and other flavors — into a single glass counter. But they tell me the main reason they did so is that they’re getting older, and no longer had the patience to walk ten feet back and forth between cases while customers picked over the flavors they wanted.

As for the talk of closing the shop? “We’re getting to the age of retiring,” says Haru.

A selection of mochi, glutinous rice cakes (clockwise from left): green tea, strawberry, pineapple, orange, coconut

They don’t know exactly when they will end Hogetsu’s run, but want to do so by choice, rather than when they’re forced to by age or health. “There’s a Japanese saying,” Masa explains, “If wait until you fall to buy a cane, you’re too late. Before you fall, buy a cane.”

Masa Takeda has been making traditional mochi for fifty years. He spent three years learning to do so in his native Kyoto, Japan, and the skill earned him a visa to the U.S. by virtue of the cultural contribution he would bring. He first set up shop in Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, where he met his wife, a third-generation Japanese-American. He tells me he decided to move to San Diego during a 1980s visit to San Clemente. To the north, he saw traffic and smog. To the south, he saw blue skies and open spaces. And so they settled in Chula Vista.

The pink and yellow striped, more chewy mochi

Miscommunication or otherwise, Hogetsu continues to enjoy a resurgence thanks to the patronage of socially networked foodies, and the Takedas express extreme gratitude. What’s certain is, for whatever reason, San Diegans may not have much longer to appreciate and enjoy the sweet and authentic Japanese treats Hogetsu Bakery provides, such as the chofu, a piece of mochi wrapped in a crepe, impressed with a small flower graphic.

In other words, we should keep the long lines coming. Just don’t be surprised if the Takedas encourage you to visit one of the other small businesses next door, whether the Panda Imperial Chinese restaurant, or Los Primos Birria. When Hogetsu does close, they would like to see other local businesses survive.

“The small stores, we are 90 percent of businesses in the United States,” says Masa, “Those are the ones getting hurt [by the pandemic.] I want to help the local, small stores.”

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