Last month, the Mitsuwa Corp. — owners of the largest Japanese grocery chain in the U.S., with 11 locations across the country — shuttered the brand’s long-standing flagship store, which opened in 1998 at Western Avenue and Carson Street in Torrance.
A central hub of the South Bay’s Japanese American community, the store was located a short walk from Mitsuwa’s corporate offices as well as the U.S. headquarters of several Japanese companies, including Honda.
But any fears among dedicated Mitsuwa Marketplace fans regarding the closure were quickly allayed by an announcement earlier this month: A larger, redesigned Mitsuwa would debut in the sprawling Del Amo Fashion Center two and a half miles west, occupying a 40,000-square-foot space that was previously a Marshall’s department store.
The morning before its grand opening, the new store hummed with activity.
Store clerks straightened shelves filled with shrimp chips and expensive single-malt whiskeys. Men in construction vests surveyed metal tables on an outdoor patio. A woman behind a glass window in the food court greased a dimpled cast-iron griddle used for cooking the popular Japanese street food takoyaki.
When the crowds arrive tomorrow — some to claim the free $10 gift certificates that will be handed out to the first 100 customers in line — the staff at South Bay’s newest and shiniest Japanese supermarket will be ready.
“The former store was in a very old building and rather than renovate, the decision was made to move the store,” said Takaaki Hamamatsu, general manager of the Del Amo store (he was also general manager at the former Torrance location). “We hope to attract a wider customer base here while remaining convenient to our existing customers.”
With a short eight-minute drive separating the old and new locations, the biggest change for longtime customers might be the new Mitsuwa’s modernized layout and aesthetics.
Gone are the Japanese-style curved tile roofs and faux-bamboo trimming of the previous location’s interior, replaced by soaring ceilings, blank white walls and rows of bright fluorescent lighting overhead — in other words, standard supermarket decor.
While aisles filled with Japanese groceries and home goods — instant ramen, shoyu, sake, pickles, rice cookers, frozen gyoza, ready-made sauces, pedicure kits — remain an indispensable part of the Mitsuwa experience, a clear emphasis of the new location is prepared foods, including a self-service deli featuring freshly rolled sushi, bento boxes and onigiri.
A small seafood and meat counter offers gleaming platters of sashimi, marinated meats and Wagyu steaks, while an abridged produce section — smaller than what is found at nearby Tokyo Central or Nijiya Market — features an array of sliced and packaged Asian fruits and vegetables. A quadrant of automated self-checkout stands near the entrance aims to reduce lines.
The centerpiece of the new Mitsuwa is its massive food court, which features 11 food vendors and seating for 500 (including 230 outdoor patio seats). Dining options include Tsukiji Gindaco (takoyaki and taiyaki), Ramen Santouka (Hokkaido-style ramen), Sutadon-ya (curry rice and pork belly bowls), Misasa (grilled meat and tempura plates), Mugimaru + Toritetsu (yakitori and udon), Yamacho Hasegawa (seafood dishes) and Delica (katsu bowls).
Hamada-ya Bakery (breads and pastries), Modo Donuts (mochi-style donuts) and J. Sweets (cookies and candies) also are located inside, flanked by a Japanese bookstore, a cosmetic counter and an insurance broker.
During its grand opening event on Friday, which includes a Japanese taiko drumming performance and a ribbon-cutting ceremony, shoppers will find 10-cent “blowout deals” on bottled green tea, Calpico drinks and Pocky sticks; 5-pound bags of koshihikari rice from Niigata will be sold for $9.99, marked down from $25.99. On Saturday and Sunday, a $30 purchase made at the store will earn you a complimentary ceramic soy sauce plate (while supplies last).
Mitsuwa Torrance is open daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; the food court will close at 8 p.m.