Oh god, it’s been over a month since I’ve written something that isn’t a mocktail recipe, how does this work again?
Last month, a small shop called the Fujiwara Tofu Cafe opened in a strip mall somewhere in the suburbs of LA. Since then, they’ve been regularly running out of inventory as fans of Japanese muscle cars and racing culture make the drive in from as far away as Las Vegas. Why? Because it’s Initial D themed.
If you, like me, only know of Initial D as “that… game? anime? that that “Running in the 90s” song is from,” allow me to formally catch you (and myself) up to the phenomenon. The 1995 manga (which ran until 2013 and was later adapted into animes, video games, and live-action movies) about a young man who learned how to street race- specifically, drifting, a cultural phenomenon of its own in Japan since the 1970s- in his laughably unassuming-looking Toyota Corolla while working as a delivery driver for his father’s tofu shop. This is where the restaurant theme comes in: everything is soy based, from silken tofu puddings to homemade soy milks. And the whole place is decked out with Initial D memorabilia- including arcade games in the back and the owner’s replica of the infamous Toyota Corolla parked out front.
[Also, shoutout to them for seeming to have the same buff manekineko that I have]
To give you an idea of just how beloved this series is, so many customers lined up on its opening day (January 20th) that many reported wait times of up to 6 hours. And if you’re still struggling to grasp just how influential this series is, the Fast and the Furious franchise (especially Tokyo Drift, for obvious reasons) would probably have never existed. It’s kind of a big deal.
In a pre-pandemic piece, I cynically said that pop-ups for big-name franchises were mindless cash-grabs. But a lot has changed since then. I’m no longer dedicated to tearing down every little thing that brings people joy. As long as everyone is being safe (everyone in the pictures I’ve seen of this had masks on, albeit those who were eating/drinking had theirs pulled down for obvious reasons), we need fun little restaurant experiences like this to give people a little something to look forward to every once in a while. I guess it also helps that this technically isn’t officially sponsored by Initial D, too. (It also isn’t a pop-up, it’s a full-time establishment, although it did start out as a pop-up stand at a number of racing events.) It’s just some guy sharing his love of an anime, tofu products, and his old Toyota with people who feel the same way.
And while “food from anime and manga” is a topic that has seen plenty of attention (Babish just launched a spinoff series all about anime food, if you want to see anime food go watch that), there is a deep, untapped well of potential when it comes to video games that feature foods that could be easily turned into pop-ups. Ramen and takoyaki from the Yakuza series? Giant slabs of mystery meat from Monster Hunter (grilled by cats, naturally)? Soft pretzels and pierogi burgers from Night in the Woods (do people still care about NITW in 2022? They should…)? Portal cake? Fall Guys… beans? It’s only a matter of time before the gamers rise up and create the next big restaurant frenzy.