A voice calling out order numbers is heard from the loudspeaker, cutting through the dull roar of different languages. Kinuko Nishikata, a Mount Prospect resident and employee at Kayaba restaurant is not at an eatery in Seoul or Tokyo, but working at Kayaba restaurant in the food court of Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights.
"I call it the mall of Japan," says store manager Masato Takai. "Japanese people can find foods here to make authentic recipes and Americans can explore the food culture of Japan." The store opened in 1991 and is the largest Japanese supermarket in the Midwest. The sprawling supermarket has a selection of sashimi grade fish, Wagyu beef, Berkshire pork and natural chicken. Noodles, miso, rice, teas and produce are all there as well as cooking tools and appliances.
Customers come from surrounding states to stock up on authentic or hard-to-find items. Veronica Eckl of South Elgin likes to shop for food and eat in the food court. "I usually come here once or twice a week, she said. "I really like the natto (fermented soybeans), the fresh vegetables, the shiitake mushrooms. They have the best prices for the shirataki noodles and things like that."
Originally from Tokyo and now living in Boston, Yoshimizu Kawamoto likes the Mama House restaurant, but for more than just the food. "I feel like I am at home when I talk to them. They share information like which dentist is best around Chicago and which restaurants are best for Chinese food and the like. They really make me happy."
Manager Takai says he enjoys interacting with non-Japanese customers. "It is fun to watch. It is nice to have customers come in and say we tried that and it was really good, or that one was too much for me. It is really fun to have this store out here."