By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
Wow, that was fast.
On Friday at 10 a.m. JiST Café in Little Tokyo posted limited-time-only orders for the Tokyo Garden chashu-shumai combination on their website. Thirty minutes later, all 100 orders were sold.
Chef Glen Seiji Ishii and partner Caroline Shin decided to put the popular dish on the menu for just two weekends, but Ishii said he didn’t expect the reaction.
“I’m shocked,” Ishii said. “All I have to say is I have a lot of respect for Mom and Grandma.”
The chashu-shumai combination was first served by the Ishii family at Tokyo Garden decades ago. The bento packs a lot of flavor: a generous serving of pork chashu with handmade shumai dumplings, all served with rice and hot mustard sauce.
They will be preparing 100 orders per day on May 1-2, 8-9. Like all restaurants, business has been challenging due to the pandemic. Besides the special combination, other online menu items include the Super Huge Breakfast Burrito with eggs and hickory ham, and the Hot Chick Sandi, a chicken katsu sandwich with habanero pickled onions, cabbage, and Kewpie mayo on a brioche bun.
Ishii said it was his grandmother who invented the combination. Lately he has been preparing the meal for seniors living in Little Tokyo.
The combination was prepared for seniors as part of “Little Tokyo Eats,” a meal delivery program for seniors on limited income sponsored by Little Tokyo Service Center, Little Tokyo Community Council and Keiro. The first day of this service was on April 6, when Sake Dojo (Don Tahara) prepared a Vegetarian Bibimbap dish. Other Little Tokyo restaurants involved are: Suehiro, Mitsuru Sushi & Grill, Kouraku and JiST.
“I gave them the Tokyo Garden chashu because a lot of the former customers are living at the Little Tokyo Towers,” Ishii explained. “I did that menu to have them be happy for right now and reminisce for the old days in Little Tokyo.”
Bill Watanabe of the Little Tokyo Historical Society recalled the popularity of the combination.
“The business was OK Monday through Thursday like a typical restaurant,” he said. “It wasn’t crowded every day. On Friday, people know about this Friday lunch special where they served the chashu and shumai.
“People would actually line up in front of the restaurant to order the lunch special so it became something of a TGIF lunch that people looked forward to every week.”
According to Ishii, the combo is labor-intensive, but he wanted to do something special for seniors sheltering in place.
Located next to Union Center for the Arts, JiST opened in 2013 and has become a popular downtown brunch spot. Before that, his family ran Tokyo Café at the same location from 2000 to 2013. Tokyo Garden first opened before World War II and moved several times from Weller Street to Second Street.
At the family restaurant, Glen’s mother Tokiko was a always familiar, cheerful presence, greeting customers and remembering their favorite menu items. He said his mom is doing well, living with his brother in Orange County.
At LTSC’s urging, JiST offered the combination to the public. When the news broke that JiST would be bringing back chashu-shumai, it quickly went viral on social media.
Carrie Morita was one of the lucky few to get her order in on time.
“My strategy was to order for the last day because I thought everyone would go for the first day,” Morita said.
Still absorbing the response, Ishii isn’t sure what he’ll be doing next. He paid tribute to his family: Grandma, Mom and dad Howard, who passed away in 2000.
“Mom is really happy that we sold out so fast. We’re not 100 percent sure what to do yet. Since there’s such a demand for it, thinking of opening it up another weekend,” he said.
He said the restaurant will announce their upcoming plans on Instagram.
“This is to make everybody happy right now,” Ishii said.
JiST is located at 116 Judge John Aiso St., Little Tokyo. Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; weekends, 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. To order or for more information, visit jistcafe.com.