Nightlife isn’t for everyone. That’s what Yukiko Muneyasu and Miles Tickler found out from running their Japanese American pop-up, Mama Yoshi, since 2017, at bars around Queens and Brooklyn. Now the couple is opening Mama Yoshi Mini Mart, a counter-service katsu spot and convenience store. The first time in a long time that their food will see sunlight, it opens on Friday, December 2 at 17-11 Grove Street, at Cypress Avenue, in Ridgewood.
At the heart of the menu are katsu sandwiches, chicken or cauliflower, which come regular, with slaw, or spicy, dressed with pickles, both with mayo (vegan for the cauliflower sandos), on squishy potato rolls. The spicy version is made with the team’s own 13-spice blend that incorporates ground whole peppers, but the specifics are a Mama Yoshi house secret. In addition, there’s a Spam grilled cheese on milk bread. Katsu bowls are also available and specials will rotate in and out regularly.
On the counter, a hot food case will be set up with chicken or cauliflower karaage with yuzu kosho aioli, kurobuta skewers (Berkshires pork with spicy ketchup), oyakodon, and katsudon.
Tickler and Muneyasu met around a decade ago on the West Coast, but they didn’t set out to own a business together; they say it just kind of happened out of pandemic necessity. Following their pop-ups, for about a year, Mama Yoshi was the resident food program at All Night Skate, a Bed-Stuy bar with a roller-disco theme; Tickler would clock out from his job at seafood spot Sea Wolf and bike over to aid Muneyasu. Soon, they started to see the potential for Mama Yoshi to be a full-blown job for both of them.
Muneyasu, who was formerly the manager at Allied Tattoo in Bushwick, said she started doing the pop-ups in New York City as an homage to her mom, Yoshi’s, home cooking: “That’s how I first learned to cook,” she says, adding that she poured her savings into it at the start, but wasn’t quite sure where it would take her. Some dishes on the menu are interpretations of Yoshi’s, while others are Muneyasu and Tickler’s own creations. In the permanent version of Mama Yoshi Mini Mart, Muneyasu says they’re able to mix in more of the feeling of the fast food she ate growing up while her mom was at work.
When asked whether her mom was excited about the name of their business, Muneyasu says, “at first she didn’t really get what the pop-up was,” with a laugh. “But now that we have this spot she definitely is.”
With their first Mama Yoshi space of their own, they knew they wanted the kind of all-day spot that would have sustainable hours and a more extensive menu than they were able to have at bars. While the Ridgewood area has plenty of bodegas, Mama Yoshi Mini Mart has its own distinct feeling, looking to convenience stores of Japan known as konbini. There are shelves stocked with provisions: candies, tonkatsu sauce, panko, and furikake seasoning. There are also some hot sauces the couple love. Eventually, they hope to stock wine bottles to take home.
The grab-n-go fridge, ready for those headed home or to work at the nearby Myrtle-Wyckoff and Seneca Avenue train stations, is stocked with drinks, egg salad sandwiches with Kewpie mayo, and onigiri (vegan versions are available), subject to change. Though it's fast food, they make everything in the cases daily: “Convenience doesn’t necessarily mean a step down in quality,” the team says.
Overall, the mini-mart portion is a way that they thought about “pandemic-proofing, not to sound cynical,” says Tickler. Inside are just nine seats, with ten to be set up outside when the weather permits. Delivery will launch down the line.
To start, the team is rolling out a limited menu. On Friday and Saturday this weekend, hours will start from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. (or until they sell out). Mama Yoshi Mini Mart will later expand to operate from Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.