So Now You Own a Kissa
Fine walkers —
Last year, for research on morning sets and pizza toast, I ended up spending a few weekends in the general Nagoya area. About a month ago, Eater released an excellent Nagoya city food guide by Nina Li Coomes, and it reminded me that I had a bunch of notes from Nagoya I had yet to write up. About one kissa in particular. Ran.
Miuchi-san ran “Ran” for 45 years. Well, a few fewer in fact — the first few he had had a partner, but then went solo. And so — some 4+ decades of manning the kissa on his own. Two floors, a mezzanine up top, allowing you to perch and watch the flow of customers in and out. This Miuchi-san wore sneakers, 72 years old, working solo, up and down day-after-day carrying cheese toasts and coffees until suddenly … he fell and died.
What to do?
He was single. Never married. Had no children. His family was, you know, not interested in running a cafe. But! Seven years before he passed away, the Asanos, two sisters, opened up a flower shop next door. They had a toy poodle, Coco. Miuchi-san loved Coco, and in time, one imagines, they all came to love one another. Miuchi-san would swing by the sisters’ flower shop one, two, three times a day, and bring the little thing back during the afternoon customer lull. They were close. When Miuchi-san’s family put out word: Does anyone want to carry the Ran baton? The sisters’ hands shot up.
What do to?
These sisters did not know how to run a cafe, let alone make a proper cup of coffee (their admission). Miuchi-san was a quiet dude. Liked fishing. Liked to talk about fishing. Never talked shop (and anyway, not much shop to talk when you boil it down). And so the Asanos, the sisters, devoted a month to learning it all. A kinda whoa kung fu Neo move on running a classic kissa.
Mountain Coffee — the coffee supplier — came in and taught them proper syphon technique. Turns out, nobody wrote down the special blend Miuchi-san used. So they called in regulars to taste test. Ran ad-hoc cuppings with retirees — the bulk of the clientele. Because that’s what Ran was, like so many other kissa around Japan: A community hub. And the Asanos wanted to see it continue on for those who came to depend on it.
They found the blend (not rocket science), or something close enough (perhaps even better; who knows how Miuchi-san invented it in the first place, was prolly due a revision). Leveled up the menu — increased the amount of food on offer, and added a “natural cheese” to the classic cheese toast. I had it. It was delicious — light and tangy. I ate it upstairs at a corner table. Surrounded by brown walls, strangely beautiful with their Egyptian wooden carvings (or is it embossed wallpaper?). It came with a hardboiled egg, a little coleslaw, and tabasco.
The tables at Ran are wooden framed formica. The whole space is warmly lit, with an entire wall of windows facing out onto the road. It’s not that big, but it feels grand. A space flooded with natural light. Easy people watching, good for reading. Miwako, the younger of the two sisters, told me her story, the story of Ran, with a suspicious eye as I sat upstairs and polished off the toast.
Is it hard? The running of this cafe? (And the continued running of the flower shop?) Sure it is. 10am to 6pm. A 40 minute commute each way. But — it’s fun. And she loves chatting with the customers (doubly so, one imagines, when they’re not interviewing her).
So swing by Ran if you happen to be walking Nagoya. Pair it with some grilled eel, as recommended by Nina.
As for other Nagoya kissa worth walking to: I loved Kurokawa as a next generation twist on 3rd wave coffee as inspired by kissa culture. Or Kako, serving up an eminently instagramable toast piled with red-bean paste and clotted cream and homemade jams, the line for which on weekends can wrap the block (the shop itself having few seats, having almost stumbled into its popularity).
But if I had to choose just one, it would probably be Ran. The interior vibe, the cheese toast, the back-story, and the total coolness of the sisters make it utterly unique. Grab a book, take off across Nagoya. When you’ve got a few km under your belt, aim towards Ran. And when you get there, tell ’em the weirdo from last summer says hello.
Until next week,
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“Growing in comfort without consequence made a shell irrelevant until I had to confront my fears without one. Turns out that hitting concrete enough can build you a shell just as well. “
“A few years ago I left a dense, walkable coastal city for a sprawling, automotive midwestern city. It’s a place where you walk against the grain, at your own peril. But by keeping up the walking I’ve gotten to know neighbors and familiar faces. It’s helped me to build up a small feeling of community in an otherwise unfamiliar place.”
(“Fellow Walkers” are short bios of the other folks subscribed to this newsletter. In Ridgeline 001 I asked: “What shell were you torn from?” and got hundreds of responses. We’re working our way through them over the year. You’re an amazing, diverse crew. Grateful to be walking with you all. Feel free to send one in if you haven’t already.)