Fresno Bakery Keeps 100-Year-Old Japanese Recipes Alive
Making Japanese pastries, or manju, is a dying art. Lynn Ikeda's bakery Kogetsu-Do is the only one of its kind in the San Joaquin Valley. (Alice Daniel/KQED)
Lynn Ikeda points to an old black-and-white photograph that hangs on the wall of her family’s store in Fresno’s Chinatown.
“Those are my grandparents on my dad’s side. They started in 1915 on Kern Street and in 1920 they moved over to F, which is here now, 920 F Street,” she says.
It’s called Kogetsu-Do and it’s the only Japanese pastry or manju bakery in the San Joaquin Valley. Ikeda makes everything by hand, and the shop – almost one hundred years later -- is strikingly similar to the photo. Ikeda uses her grandparents’ rice pounder, the same glass display cases, even the beautiful wooden boxes that hold tidy rows of wrapped pastries.
“These right here are done with a branding iron,” she says, bringing out a box of delicate cakes graced with imprints of cranes and roses on their tops. The branding irons also belonged to her grandparents, imported from Japan. “They’re really hard to find now,” she says.
She’s interrupted by the doorbell. “Oops, a customer,” she says, as a train of hellos echoes from the entrance.
It’s Dan and Judy Morinaga. They’ve been coming here for 40 years. They knew Ikeda’s father back when he ran the business.
“OK, so what are you going to order?” Ikeda asks.
“I’ll have one dozen for just my folks,” Dan says. A dozen mochi -- a sweet rice flour dough wrapped around fruit or bean paste -- to take to his parents at Thanksgiving. But why stop there?
“Oh, you know what, let me take another dozen because my sister from the Bay Area will be here,” Judy says.
“OK, does she want the beans and the fruit, or just the beans?” Ikeda asks.
And then Judy gets something for herself: Mochi filled with ice cream. There’s butterfinger, cherry, strawberry, chocolate with almond toffee, mocha almond fudge. She agonizes over the decision, oohing and aahing with each prospect. And then finally she chooses mocha cappuccino.
Ikeda begins each day long before customers like the Morinagas arrive. She cooks rice flour in a steamer with sugar and water, and works the dough on a granite counter. She won’t let anyone in the kitchen, including this reporter. Her father gave her the dough recipe he got from his father -- and she’s kept it a secret.
“They spent a lot of years perfecting it. And I like to keep it that way,” she says.
The bakery has been open for almost a century, but during World War II the family was forced into an internment camp in Arkansas. Ikeda’s grandfather rented out the store to a Chinese family he knew. But even at the internment camp, he found a way to bake.
“Someone told me my grandfather was baking the Japanese pastries out there,” Ikeda says. “He would make sure there was no one in the kitchen first off.”
The family returned to a bustling Chinatown after World War II. But over the past few decades, the district has emptied out. Now, people like Kathy Omachi, president of Chinatown Revitalization, are trying to revive the area by offering tours that include places like Kogetsu-Do. She says it’s living history.
“And that you can’t really get from books or photos or other things, because it’s that real touch of the living, of what it means to have that kind of history just in your own backyard,” Omachi says. “It’s a treasure.”
Omachi’s dad was born here in China Alley, just behind Kogetsu-Do. She says the bakery made immigrants feel more at home.
“It was a long-term business that really enhanced all the traditional foods that people had built their lives around when they came to the U.S.,” she says. “And it’s a mainstay in our community.”
Ikeda’s 21-year-old daughter, Emi, sometimes helps customers at the bakery.
She’s the bakery’s only successor, but she doesn’t plan on taking it over, so its long-term future is up in the air. Still, Emi says, she respects the craft.
“Just getting all the right ingredients in, steaming it, the timing. You have to really know how to time it and then work your way around the machinery since it’s all old, from the 1900s,” she says of this dying art. “It’s like traveling back in time.”
Just one of many reasons customers keep returning to Kogetsu-Do.