Yuji Haraguchi might be considered the official progenitor of the pop-up trend in Japan, but in New York, he’s just another chef trying to fill a void. After introducing starved New Yorkers to a food they didn’t know they craved — brothless ramen better known as mazeman — Haraguchi transitioned from the world of pop-up tents at Smorgasburg and counters at Whole Foods to a permanent omakase menu at Okonomi. Okonomi is a restaurant that was made possible thanks to Haraguchi’s willingness to ask people online for a helping hand, a concept that has not taken off in Japan just yet.
Now it’s another service his followers crave that has Haraguchi focused on his next challenge: a true Japanese-style fish market called Osakana, for which he’s crowdsourcing funding.
“The Kickstarter to me was truly, being Japanese, an American-dream thing,” says Haraguchi. “People do support if you have a really have a strong product and passion.”
Osakana, which translates to “honor your fish” in English, is Haraguchi’s message to American eaters that the seafood they’ve been consuming is not the best it can be. “Fish are available, but a lot of things make people hesitate to buy fish,” Haraguchi says. “Trust in quality. Trust in product. What makes the difference in quality is handling.”
Haraguchi — who entered the American restaurant industry by way of the Boston docks — knows that the geographical distance between American and Japanese seafood is not the problem. Instead, the issue lies in the respect and methods used to transport seafood from ocean to plate. Haraguchi is motivated to make foolproof seafood transportation and preparation a reality here in the States.
Using Kickstarter to help bring excitement about a project such as a restaurant or fish market is one thing, but Haraguchi has a broader goal that goes beyond business. Creating trust through crowdfunding is a great way to establish a relationship, but Haraguchi is, in his own words, trying to build “a bridge between the ocean and the customers.”
Long-term education about the proper ways to catch, transport, and present fish is Osakana’s main goal. From the proper upkeep of display counters to educating staff on each fish that makes its way to the market, Haraguchi’s goals seek to change the way New Yorkers view seafood. The market aims to be more than just profitable, teaching customers about things like keeping fish on the bone as long as possible (to avoid deterioration) and recipes for fish-head stew.
“Classes and education are a really important part of the market,” explains Haraguchi. “We’re not going to just sell you the fish.”
If he raises enough funds, that thought may well be on its way to becoming a reality. The Kickstarter campaign launched on March 1, and will be seeking donations until March 31. As of March 10, Osakana has received $32,026 from 185 backers — more than half of its $50,000 goal.
Osakana is planning a spring opening in Williamsburg, near the intersection of Graham Avenue and Powers Street.