COVINGTON, Ky. -- The spirit of "omotenashi" is alive and well at Chako Bakery Cafe, a sun-drenched bakery and cafe that opened on Oct. 10 at 212 W. Pike St. in Covington.
"This word is hard to explain … it is translated to English as hospitality, but to us Japanese, it involves so much more," said owner Hisako "Chako" Okawa.
Along with a simple cafe menu of Katsu Sando (fried-pork sandwich) and Japanese curry soup and bread (on Fridays only), Chako prepares more than 15 different baked goods from scratch daily, including azuki sweet bread, matcha cake, shoku-pan (square bread), and other assorted breads, muffins, cakes and cookies.
Prior to opening the bakery and cafe, Chako was a home-based chef who ran a custom-order home bakery. In April, Chako ran a pop-up restaurant as part of the chef fellowship program offered at the Center for Great Neighborhoods. The pop-up restaurant was the culmination of the fellowship program, which provided education and coaching in areas such as food costs, restaurant design and staff management.
Chako graduated with the goal of opening her own cafe. The center alerted her to potential locations in Covington for her cafe, but it was ultimately word of mouth that led her to the location on Pike Street. She immediately knew it was the right place.
"The landlord used to run (this space) years ago as (a) bakery, and most recently it (was) a cafe," she said. "The location came furnished with … essential types of equipment for both a bakery and a cafe."
The space was also small enough that she felt she could run the business on her own. Since the space was already furnished, Chako was able to save on upfront costs. She did, however, use personal savings to buy a ventless hood and an electric stove.
The center also kept Chako informed of grants and other funding to help her get started.
"I applied and was awarded a rent subsidiary grant provided by Covington's business development office," she said. "This grant will represent a savings of $6,000 on rent during my first year."
The center continues to assist Chako with complimentary financial and tax advice; friends and family have helped in other ways.
"Since my son is a designer, he built my web page and designed my store logo and business presence," she said.
The chef fellowship program is part of the center’s FreshLo initiative funded by the Kresge Foundation. Launched in January, the FreshLo program aims to develop food-oriented initiatives for neighborhood revitalization.
"The current plan is to offer a business class tailored to home chefs who make culturally inspired food and are thinking about opening a restaurant or food truck," said Sarah Allan, program director for creative place-making at the center. "We are currently developing the curriculum, and our hope is that the first class will start in early 2018 with space for at least 10 people."
The next chef fellow will be chosen from the class, and the goal is to host two chef fellowship restaurants in Covington next year.
Every Monday, Chako teaches classes on cake and bread-making, as well as Japanese food preparation. The classes are $50 a person and are limited to five students a class.
She plans to roll out more cooking classes in the future and host monthly dinners at the cafe.
"(It would be similar) to what I did for the pop-up restaurant but at a much smaller scale," she said.
The transition to a retail space has been a learning process, running the gamut from contractor management to documentation compliance, but it’s a dream come true, Chako said.
"I am very grateful for all the support that I have received every step of the way," she said. "At times I felt that things were going slowly, but now that my bakery cafe is open, I can appreciate the lessons learned."
For more information on the chef fellowship program, email email@example.com.
Chako Bakery Cafe
212 W. Pike St., Covington
9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; catering services available.
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.