Gluten-free bakery filled with yearning for hometown
Gluten-free bakery filled with ...

Gluten-free bakery filled with ...

Gluten-free bakery filled with ...

Gluten-free bakery filled with ...

Gluten-free bakery filled with ...

Gluten-free bakery filled with ...

By Keiko Fukuda

The Great East Japan earthquake which occurred in March of 2011 brought a huge damage to the area between North Kanto to Tohoku. The whole areas are still only partially recovered. The hometown of Hiro Saito, the owner of “Kirari West”, a bakery in Redondo Beach in the suburbs of Los Angeles, is Fukushima which is one of the most devastatingly damaged regions. His family had a Japanese garment shop in Fukushima originally, and Hiro’s father later expanded the family business to multiple businesses demonstrating excellent abilities. They had a construction company and a sweet shop to sell baumkuchen made with Fukushima rice flour.

After graduating from high school in Fukushima, Mr. Saito went to the State of Delaware in the East Coast of US in 1996 to study English. He did not go back to Japan after that, and instead, jumped into the restaurant industry in New York. Then later in Los Angeles, he was hired to manage 50 staff members of Hugo’s Restaurant in Studio City. The big earthquake broke out when he was going into the eighth year with Hugo’s.

“I was so worried because I was out of touch with my family for days. Naturally, I was imagining the worst scenario.” Fortunately, his family was safe, but the newly-opened baumkuchen laboratory, “Kirari”, faced the big disaster when the business just started to taste the beginning of success.

Then, Mr. Saito thought about opening a store where he could sell the products made with rice flour on the West Coast. The incident of the natural disaster triggered Mr. Saito who had been living in the US for nearly 20 years by then to think back of his hometown.

“I first thought about opening a store specialized in selling the type of baumkuchen which were sold in Fukushima; however, it would have cost as much as 120 thousand dollars to set up the same type of baking equipment in accordance with the American standard, which would be way over my budget.”

A few corrections in the plan were obviously needed, so he looked for a location for the store after deciding on the base of the concept as gluten-free bread and cakes, yet made with American rice flour. Mr. Saito who was residing in Santa Monica, then, was not familiar with the South Bay area which is in the south of Los Angeles International Airport, where the current store is located. First, he looked for other cities such as Pasadena, Melrose, Studio City, and Hollywood.

“The owners of the properties were reluctant about leasing. They thought my business was too risky because I was the first-time store owner. After a while, when I checked those places again, big franchise businesses such as Starbucks and Seven-Eleven had occupied there.”

After 10-month of researching for neighborhood resident statistics, he found that Redondo Beach residents were highly health-conscious, and their household incomes were as high as, or even more than 100,000 dollars a year. Selling of gluten-free products requires relatively a higher price setting, so high household income is one of the essential conditions. As the result, he succeeded to find an ideal location which is near the beach with ample parking spaces in a shopping mall facing the Pacific Coast Highway.

“Kirari West”, the West Coast version of Fukushima Kirari was thus born in a comfortable space with a stylish high ceiling. The menu has expanded during the past two years since the opening to have light meals such as panini sandwiches, galette, and salads by listening to the voices of the customers. The drink menu includes even Japanese tea in addition to usual variety of coffee drinks, etc.

“To tell the truth, for the first six months after the opening, there was no budget for advertising, and the business fell into a negative spiral. It was difficult to get out of deficit. I hung in with the principle I learned through the experience with Hugo’s, that is - the customers will surely come back as long as you keep offering solid products and services-, and finally, Yelp became the key to kindle popularity by word of mouth.”

After interviewing Mr. Saito, he offered me an Almond Brioche, which is one of their popular products. It was moist, sweet, and tender. Its tenderness made me think of Mr. Saito’s yearning for his hometown.


2011年3月の東日本大震災は北関東から東北にかけて甚大な被害をもたらした。今もまだ復興は途上にある。ロサンゼルス郊外の海辺の町、レドンドビーチのベイカリー、Kirari Westのオーナー、斎藤ヒロさんの実家も被災地、福島市にある。実家はもともと呉服屋だったが、父親が呉服屋以外にも建設会社を起こし、さらに福島の米から作られた米粉製のバウムクーヘンの店もオープン、多角経営に手腕を発揮していた。








福島にある樹楽里の西海岸版であるKirari Westは、おしゃれな高天井の居心地の良い空間に誕生した。店のメニューはオープンして2年の間に顧客の要望を取り入れつつ、パニーニのサンドイッチやガレット、サラダなどの軽食を増やしてきた。ドリンク類もコーヒー各種はもちろん日本茶も揃う。



707 N. Pacific Coast Hwy, Redondo Beach CA
Saturday& Sunday:8:00am-6:00pm
7days open