Popular restaurant hidden on a residential street, “Organic Vegan” VegiLicious
2019-07-28
Popular restaur...

Popular restaur...

By Keiko Fukuda

I heard that VegiLicious is an organic vegan restaurant as you can imagine from its name, and not only that, it is a Japanese restaurant. How could I resist going there? The restaurant is located in Huntington Beach, a surfers’ town. It stands quietly in a corner of a mall, about a 10 minute drive towards the ocean from the 405 Freeway. It is surrounded by relaxed residential streets away from busy streets.

I arrived at the restaurant at 2:30 in the afternoon after the peak lunch time. I saw 2 groups of people eating enjoyably. The lady who was cheerfully talking to the customers as she was serving, was Atsuko Nakao, and the gentleman who came out and talked frankly to the customers who were having desserts, was Akira Nakao. They are the Japanese married couple who run this hidden popular restaurant, and also the only working staff who does everything for the restaurant.
First, I tried their popular menu item, the Kobe BBQ Bowl. I came up with a simple question. Why Kobe beef, at a vegan restaurant? I understood after they explained to me that the meat was made from soybeans which had been developed for vegans after a series of trial and errors, and made almost as identical to the real thin-sliced grilled beef. Even though I knew that it was made with soybeans, I felt the meaty texture in my mouth. It went very well with the sweet and spicy sauce and the brown rice underneath, which gave me quite a bit of satisfaction. Not only that, the fact that “it is not meat” gave me no sense of guilt that I usually feel. The salad dressing is also house-made. They must be very passionate about the business for being so particular about organic ingredients, making everything in-house, and running the place only by themselves.

The owner, Akira-san, is a 2-time adult-class all-Japan wrestling champion. After coming to the US, he had worked at 2 Japanese restaurants as a manager before he opened this restaurant. While working, he gradually developed a desire to run his own organic vegan restaurant. I asked him the reason. He said, “While I was managing my own health as a wrestler, I actually felt myself getting over the exhaustion faster, and healthier by eating more pork than beef, more chicken than pork, more fish than chicken, and even more soybean products such as tofu and natto than fish as my main diet.” He said that he came to his senses to this eating style which he currently offers, through his own experiences.

After taking 7months to find the property, and another 10 months to build, VegiLicious finally opened in February of 2013. When you look at the menu, you see a lot of choices, and a rich variety of items; 3 rice bowl dishes including the Kobe BBQ, as many as 7 kinds of curry dishes, 1 ramen bowl, 5 combination plates, soups, salads, appetizers, sandwiches, and desserts. You can also purchase their house-made salad dressing at the store section.

Because of the way their dishes are prepared with organic-only ingredients and no additives, which takes time and labor, this married couple are the only ones working for this restaurant in order to save labor costs. “Everything, from buying, cooking, and serving, to cleaning is done by us only,” says Akira-san. Even so, the couple wears a cheerful smile, and doesn’t show any stress, maybe because of their healthy food and lifestyle they lead, and offering it to their customers. It seems like they are living in a spiral of maintaining health by the power of food despite busy work, providing satisfaction to the customers by the good food, and getting even busier. I got a strong impression that only because they do everything by themselves, their mission-like desire, to “Make people healthy and happy with organic vegan cooking”, is being conveyed directly to their customers, and the number of their fans is growing.

I asked how many customers they were attracting because of that thinking, and how many rotations they have for dinner time sales. They said, “It depends. Some spend only 15 minutes to finish, and others, like a big group for instance, could take 2 to 3 hours to enjoy the whole experience.” You can easily guess how popular they are by knowing that the wait time could be as long as 30 minutes in the waiting line to get in.


住宅街の隠れた「オーガニックビーガン」人気店

VegiLicious、店名から想像できるようにオーガニックビーガン料理の店。しかも日本食レストランと聞けば行ってみないわけにはいかない。その店があるのはサーファーの街、ハンティントンビーチ。フリーウェイの405号線を降りて延々10分ほど海の方に進んだモールの一角にひっそりと佇む。周囲は、繁華街とは程遠く、のんびりした雰囲気漂う住宅街だ。

店に到着したのはランチタイムのピークを過ぎた午後2時半。店内では食事を楽しむ2組のグループの姿があった。サーバーを務めながら明るく客に声をかける女性は中尾亜津子さん。そして、デザートを食べている客のテーブルに現れ、気さくに話しかける男性が中尾昭さん。この店は日本人夫婦が二人だけで切り盛りしている、隠れた人気店なのだ。

まずは、人気メニューの神戸BBQボウルをいただいた。ビーガンなのに神戸BBQとは一体?と素朴な疑問が浮かぶが、ビーガン向けに開発された大豆製の代替肉を、工夫に工夫を重ねて薄切りの焼肉そっくりに仕上げていると聞いて納得。大豆とわかって口に運んでもしっかりとした食べ応えがあり、また甘辛いソースと下に敷かれたブラウンライスとの相性も抜群で満足度は高い。さらに「肉にあらず」という事実のおかげで、普段感じる罪悪感とも無縁だ。サラダのドレッシングも手作り。オーガニックな食材にこだわり、手作りにこだわり、さらに夫婦二人だけで店を回していくとなると、相当な熱意がなければやっていけないに違いない。

オーナーの昭さんは、日本で二度の全国大会優勝経験がある社会人レスリングのチャンピオン。アメリカに渡った後、今の店を持つまでに、ロサンゼルス近辺の2軒の日本食レストランのマネージャーを務めた。その中で次第にオーガニックビーガンの店を自分で経営したいという気持ちが募ってきたのだという。その理由を聞くと、「レスリング選手として自分の健康を管理していくうえで、牛肉よりも豚肉、豚より鶏肉、鶏より魚、さらに魚よりも豆腐や納豆といった大豆食品を食生活の中心に据えることで、疲れの回復が早く、体調が良くなっていくことを実感したのです」と、自らの実体験から今手掛けている食のスタイルに目覚めたのだと教えてくれた。

そして、物件探しに7カ月、工事に10カ月かけて、2013年2月、VegiLicousはようやく開店にこぎつけた。同店で出されているメニューに目をやると、神戸BBQボウルをはじめとする丼3種、カレーは実に7種、ラーメンが1種、コンビネーションミールが5種、そのほかにもスープ、サラダ、アペタイザーからサンドイッチ、デザートまで選択肢は豊富にある。さらに手作りドレッシングは店頭で販売されている。

オーガニック食材と添加物を使用しないという手間と時間がかかる調理法のため、人件費を抑える目的で前述のように店で働くのは夫婦のみ。「仕入れから調理、接客から掃除に至るまで全部私たち二人でやっています」と昭さんは語る。それでも自らが実践し、客にも提供する健康的な食生活のおかげなのか、夫婦は明るい笑顔を見せ、疲れなどは感じさせない。忙しく働いても食の力で健康を維持し、その料理で顧客に満足感を与え、さらに忙しくなり、というスパイラルの中で生活しているようだ。そして、二人だけで何もかもを手がけているからこそ、彼らの「オーガニックビーガン料理で人を健康にして、幸せにしたい」という使命感にも似た思いは、直接的に顧客へと届き、店のファンを増やしているのだという印象を強く受けた。

その結果、どれだけの客を呼び込んでいるのか?店の売り上げの代わりにディナータイムは一体何回転するのかと聞いたが、「食べたいものだけを食べて15分で帰る人もいるし、2、3時間、食事を楽しむグループもいるので一概に言えません」とのことだった。それでも、空席待ちに30分の列ができると聞けば、人気のほどは推して知るべし、だろう。



VegiLicious
16821 Algonquin St., #103, Huntington Beach, CA
(714)377-3928

https://www.vegilicious-us.com

Wednesday-Monday
11:45am-3:00pm, 5:30pm-9:00pm

Closed Tuesdays


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