Rafu Staff Report
Mikawaya, a confectionary company that was founded in Little Tokyo 105 years ago, has been acquired by Century Park Capital Partners, a private equity firm.
Mikawaya is a multi-million-dollar business that specializes in wagashi (Japanese pastries) and is mainly known for its mochi ice cream, which is sold in supermarkets across the country, including Trader Joe’s. It also has a line of Asian ice cream flavors called Exottics.
“We are absolutely and unequivocally going to continue the wagashi side (of the company),” Joel Friedman, Mikawaya president and CEO, told The Rafu Shimpo. “Mikawaya will continue to sell its pastries and will keep it stores open. And, we are definitely keeping the one in Little Tokyo, which is doing great.”
The company has stores in Japanese Village Plaza in Los Angeles and at Mitsuwa in Torrance. Stores at three other locations have closed — Honolulu in 2011, Little Tokyo Galleria in 2013, and Gardena’s Pacific Square at the beginning of this year.
“I have brought in a group of people with the expertise and capital to expand Mikawaya to approximately three times its size,” Friedman said. “We are going into development of our ice cream products and new ice cream products. If someone comes up with a new idea and we can say, ‘I wish I had thought of that,’ we will look at it.
“I know people are worried about what’s going to happen. I am still going to be active, and I promise I will be the same miserable guy I always was.”
Martin Sarafa, one of Century Park Capital’s three managing partners, told The Rafu Shimpo, “We are very excited about this investment and plan to help the company grow and prosper. We are very mindful of its position within the Japanese American community and do not have any plans to make changes to the stores or with the employees.”
Sarafa also told The Los Angeles Times that his firm wants to bring mochi ice cream to a wider audience, noting that consumer surveys show that only 20 percent of the U.S. population has heard of mochi ice cream, but that nine out of 10 who try it like it and buy it regularly.
Century Park Capital Partners, headquartered in El Segundo with a Northern California office in Menlo Park, partners with owner/managers to build successful companies. It specializes in facilitating owner liquidity and business expansion by providing $10 million to $40 million equity investments for minority and majority recapitalizations, growth financings, management-led buyouts and acquisition financings.
Century Park seeks to support management in accelerating the growth curve of well-positioned companies by investing in infrastructure, internal growth initiatives, and strategic acquisitions.
Its portfolio includes Aqua-Flo, Cirtec Medical Systems, Hi-Tech Rubber, Dickinson Frozen Foods, Kidsline, Lynx Grills, Packaging Plus, and Ryan’s Express Transportation Services.
For more information, visit www.centuryparkcapital.com.
“Our sweets are made with the finest ingredients and feature seasonal flavors,” Mikawaya says on its website. “Rich, moist, unique and beautiful, our exquisite Japanese confections bring a little bit of culture and a lot of flavor to any occasion, whether it’s a tea ceremony or a light, casual treat.”
Since 1910, Mikawaya has specialized in traditional Japanese pastries. It is named after founder Ryuzaburo Hashimoto’s hometown in the Mikawa province of Japan. Ya means “store.” The first Mikawaya store opened at 365 E. First St. in the heart of Little Tokyo.
In 1925, Hashimoto’s nephew Koroku Hashimoto and his wife Haru took over Mikawaya operations and reopened the facility at the newly built Olympic Hotel on North San Pedro Street. Five years later they moved back to First Street.
From 1942 to 1945, Mikawaya shut down because the Hashimoto family, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, was interned at the Poston camp in Arizona for the duration of World War II. On Dec. 23, 1945 they reopened at 244 E. First St., next door to their pre-war location.
Frances Hashimoto was born at Poston in 1943. After the war, she spent much of her time both working and playing at the family business. She attended Hollenbeck Junior High School and Roosevelt High School, then earned a bachelor’s degree from USC. She worked as an elementary school teacher for four years while helping out at Mikawaya part-time.
After her mother got into a car accident in 1970, Hashimoto, then 27, decided to enter the family business full-time. She became the CEO of Mikawaya and also continued learning the art of making Japanese confections.
Hashimoto grew the company from a small neighborhood store into a large corporation with five retail branches. Under her leadership, Mikawaya’s mochi ice cream, which she and her husband perfected in the early 1990s, was sold in many Japanese restaurants as well as supermarkets. Other brands of mochi ice cream are now on the market, but Mikawaya, which bills itself as “the original and still the best,” remains the biggest seller of the product.
Due to her great passion for the community that she had grown up in, Hashimoto served in various capacities in many local organizations, including the Little Tokyo Business Association, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, Nisei Week Festival, and Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.
Hashimoto died of lung cancer in November 2012 at the age of 69. In addition to Friedman, her husband, she was survived by two sons. The plaza at Second and Azusa streets in Little Tokyo was renamed in her memory, and she was posthumously honored by the JACCC.
For more information on the company, visit http://mikawaya.com.