It’s been a mere ten months since Yukiko “Yuki” Hayakawa launched a company without meaning to. Her unintentional enterprise, called Noé No Omise, started in 2021, when she made her first vegan chocolate bar with her five-year-old daughter in their Fort Greene kitchen to keep themselves busy during the pandemic. It was one of many crafts projects they’d do together.
But the sophisticatedly pretty bars of vegan chocolate with their unusually matched and carefully sourced ingredients were too special not to draw actual customers, including some of the city’s top chefs.
Today, No Omise is a real business experiencing its first stage of growing pains and although it hasn’t been a full year, it feels a long way from her debut, which was intended as a lesson for her daughter Noé (now seven) in the basic rules of commerce. “Before I got pregnant, I was just thinking, when my daughter or my son become five-year-old, I want to do something together to experience how the money flows,” she recalls.
When she heard about a Mother’s Day pop-up at Mika in Bushwick, Hayakawa signed them up, thinking they could sell some of their creations, which included an aromatherapeutic hand sanitizer and bath bomb along with their chocolate.
She asked her daughter to name their stall. She chose to name it after herself: Omise means “store” or “shop” in Japanese, so Noé No Omise is Noé’s Shop. What Hayakawa was expecting to be a teachable moment for her child was its own revelation for herself. “It was so much fun meeting people,” she says. What was most fun was talking to them about the chocolate.
English is not Hayakawa’s first language. She was born in Japan, in the city of Nagoya, which “has a very unique culture,” she says. “It’s kind of in between Tokyo and Osaka. So, we created our own very strange food style.” This style is defined by hatcho miso, which originated in a small, nearby town called Okazaki. A saltier, more savory version of the fermented soybean paste, it flavors the region’s signature katsu, dote ni (a pork offal stew), simmered oden, and udon.
You might also describe her chocolate as strange if your only standard of comparison is traditional European-style versions. It doesn’t taste or behave like the latter. And it’s not just that it’s raw and vegan; it’s her use of essential oils, unrefined sugars, and not a lot of the second.
Chocolate wasn’t Hayakawa and her daughter’s first culinary endeavor. First, there was the Japanese cake roll — that irresistible sponge cake filled with whipped cream and fresh strawberries. It came out a little too nice: Soon, she found herself eating it daily with Noé and began to worry about diabetes.
She remembered some orange-flavored raw vegan chocolate sweetened with maple syrup she’d tried at a party a few years earlier. It was “so good and fresh,” she says. This would be the solution: something she and Noé could make together, and eat every day.
Hayakawa decided to incorporate the essential oils from an ongoing aromatherapy project into the chocolate. Their first bar was sweetened with maple syrup and combined dark chocolate with miso, puffed quinoa, and orange — both dried slices and, known for its ability to calm, boost moods, increase circulation, reduce swelling and leave you with glowing skin, the sweet citrus oil. After that came the cardamom bar, speckled with gold leaf and IKB-hued spirulina, for a dramatically stunning effect. A relative of ginger, the featured spice is known for aiding digestion and enhancing energy.
After two dark chocolate bars, “it started to get boring,” she says. Whereas white chocolate is usually thought of as a neutral slate for flavor, she also saw it as a blank canvas on which to do something visually contrasting and use color in a more assertive way. Made with cacao butter, homemade roasted cashew butter, and a touch of salt, her first white product was swirled with raspberry jam and grass green, antioxidant-rich matcha powder.
For Hayakawa, who is trained in design (graphic, web, and interior), aesthetics have continued to be as much of a priority as taste, texture, and health. There’s another bar inspired by a fashion-focused friend who announced it would be very cool if he could have nearly black chocolate. Black sesame would have been the obvious choice, but for her noir chocolate bar, she went with charcoal, which is used for treating stomach illness in Japan. (Each of the bars is priced at $16 for a large rectangle and $9 for littler squares, or at $92 or $50, respectively, for samplers of all six.)
When you get her going, Hayakawa will start talking about the Mayans, who ground the beans into a powder and drank it, unsweetened, for health. She’ll tell you that cacao butter has more calcium than cow’s milk. That it’s high in magnesium, good for your heart and focusing your mind. She’ll tell you about its happy-making phenylethylamine. Because she maintains the cacao butter’s raw state when she melts it, she believes that its nutrients and enzymes are left intact. “I really take it as a supplement,” she says.
Hayakawa is on track to expand and hopes to one day, move out of her friend’s commissary kitchen in Clinton Hill, and open her own chocolate-making facility. Bonbons and truffles are also on the horizon. She’ll be adding new bars to the collection that showcase Japanese ingredients: mountain herbs, a lesser-known cousin of yuzu, and, maybe a soy-free version of that hatcho miso Nagoya is known for.
When she describes it, she shares a memory of slurping up giant bowlfuls of udon prepared with the fermented paste as a little girl and she laughs. “I love good food that makes you giggle,” she says. Call it strange. Call it laughably good, Hayakawa’s chocolate is a gift to her daughter, and to the rest of New York.