SEATTLE — New Orleans-style beignets, Japanese-style snacks, and anime-style décor are three reasons a new bakeshop in Rainier Beach defies convention.
The fourth reason? Owner Harold Fields.
"It's all me, it's all part of my culture,” he said. “My wife's Japanese, she's from Yokohama, Japan."
That's where he first tasted and fell in love with okazu pan - small, savory grab-and-go pastries found in just about every deli, bakery, and convenience store. The dough is wrapped around flavors like beef curry, rolled in panko, and deep-fried.
Fields taught himself how to make them and in 2009 he founded Umami Kushi, a catering and wholesale business.
For years, Harold supplied pans to coffee shops and grocery stores. But now - they're also available in his own café attached to his commercial kitchen.
The small space is vibrant and colorful, with okazu pans lining a display case and a wall mural showcasing black anime characters with the Space Needle in the background.
"This is Seattle. This is created in Seattle, it's made in Seattle, it's all about Seattle,” Fields said. "It represents the diversity within the city, it represents hopefully the great food scene that's in this city."
For now, the space is called Umami Kushi Café but Fields may rename it when he gets a chance to catch his breath. Between running his small business and helping his family manage through the pandemic, it’s been a trying year.
Still, Fields chooses to find the positives - the anime mural is a nod to one of them.
“My two kids are into anime and during the pandemic, they got me hooked on a couple of shows they were watching,” he said. "This was a unique opportunity to bond."
For customers, the space offers a unique opportunity to indulge and feel seen.
"(My girlfriend and I) both watch a lot of anime, so to walk into a place that's black-run and POC run and on top of that, is serving Asian food which is something I absolutely love - it just feels right,” said customer Jamel Moxey.
Savory snacks are available throughout the week, but the sweet menu item is only sold on weekends: made-to-order beignets. Customers pre-order them and Fields usually sells out.
They’re based on traditional New Orleans beignets, but Fields adds a special touch: house-made powdered sugar, made with coconut and cane sugar, rose petals and cinnamon.
“Then once we powder that mixture down, we add other flavors to enhance it so you have a choice of whatever flavor you want,” he said.
Options include strawberry, peach or blueberry. They change with the seasons, and regular customers come in every weekend to taste whatever other new flavor profiles Fields creates.
"I think it's a beautiful thing,” he said. "I think all of that helps keep me going and going and going."
Plus, each order is a reminder of why he started this in the first place.
"I can eat as many pans as I want to eat,” he said, laughing.
Umami Kushi Café is open Thursday – Sunday, but customers can order online and pick-up from the storefront seven days a week. It’s located at 9099 Seward Park Ave. South in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood.