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Describing Japanese konbini culture is not easy for Chef Katsuya Fukushima. He says that’s a good thing because it would spoil the surprise. It’s possible to eat, really well, from 7-Eleven for weeks in Japan. Lawson and Family Mart are other popular konbini brands that make living and visiting an expensive country more manageable.
“You can hype it up but people don’t realize how special and unique they are before people go to one,” Fukushima says. He digs that you can pick up dinner, a tie, or underwear and appreciates the cheerful service.
Fukushima and his Daikaya Group partners—Daisuke Utagawa and Yama Jewayni—are launching a take on a Japanese mini-market in their original ramen shop in Chinatown called 11-7 at Daikaya. It hasn’t made sense for them to open Daikaya Ramen during the pandemic because they could only seat about six ramen slurpers with the reduced seating capacity mandates. “We’re sitting on this beautiful space and nothing is happening,” Fukushima says. “So we said, ‘Let’s do a market!'”
Starting tomorrow, the first floor of 705 6th St. NW will be used as a staging ground for 11-7 at Daikaya. Customers will place all of their orders online and pick up them up at the shop. Delivery may be possible down the line, but Washingtonians won’t be able to swing by and browse because of COVID-19 concerns.
The online konbini will be open Wednesdays through Sundays starting at 11 a.m. Orders will be ready within a two-hour window and the first available pick up will be 1 p.m. Orders for any given day must be placed by 7 p.m.
Look for a selection that includes much of what Japanophiles like to stock their pantries with, from Kewpie mayo and Bull-Dog tonkatsu sauce to oils, vinegars, specialty flours, and spices. Daikaya’s pastry chef is currently perfecting a Japanese bread recipe. Those who aren’t home cooks can load up on instant ramen, snacks, and candy.
“We’re starting small in terms of what we’ll offer,” Fukushima says. “If it catches on and people request certain things, we’ll try to get them. We can get whatever someone wants if our purveyors have it.”
Fukushima will also be making bento boxes, onigiri (rice balls), fried snacks like korokke, Japanese sandwiches, and other prepared foods for 11-7 at Daikaya. He was born in Okinawa, Japan, but moved to Hawaii when his father was posted there with the military. The chef has always had an affinity for some of the state’s favorite dishes like loco moco and Spam musubi. Expect to see those, plus a hot dog musubi that’s lesser known than the original.
11-7 at Daikaya also plans to stock some alcohol, ranging from sake to bottled cocktails from The Daikaya Group’s full line-up of restaurants, which includes the izakaya upstairs, Haikan in Shaw, Hatoba in Navy Yard, and Bantam King around the corner.
D.C. is also blessed to have access to Hana Market on U Street NW, which stocks some of the same popular Japanese groceries and snacks. “Hana fills the need up there in that part of Northwest,” Fukushima says. “I don’t think there can be too many.”
In Tokyo, there are competing konbinis on every corner. Lucky them.