She is interrupted by the doorbell. “Oops, a customer,” she says, as a train of hellos sounds from the entrance.
It’s Dan and Judy Morinaga. They’ve been coming here for 40 years. They knew Ikeda’s father when he ran the business.
“OK, so what are you going to order?” Ikeda asks.
“I’ll have a dozen just for my parents,” Dan said. A dozen mochi – a sweetened rice flour dough wrapped around a fruit or bean paste – to bring to one’s parents at Thanksgiving. But why stop there?
“Oh, you know what, let me get another dozen because my sister from the Bay Area will be there,” Judy said.
“OK, does she want the beans and the fruit, or just the beans?” Ikeda asks.
And then Judy gets something for herself: Mochi filled with ice cream. There’s butter, cherry, strawberry, chocolate with almond caramel, mocha and almond fudge. She agonizes over the decision, oohing and aahing with every prospect. And then finally she chooses the mocha cappuccino.
Ikeda starts each day long before customers like the Morinagas arrive. She cooks rice flour in a steamer with sugar and water, and works the dough on a granite worktop. She won’t let anyone in the kitchen, including this reporter. Her dad gave her the dough recipe he got from her dad – and she kept it a secret.
“They spent many years perfecting it. And I like to keep it that way,” she says.
The bakery has been in business for nearly a century, but during World War II the family was forced into an internment camp in Arkansas. Ikeda’s grandfather rented the store from a Chinese family he knew. But even in the internment camp, he found a way to cook.
“Someone told me my grandfather made Japanese pastries there,” Ikeda says. “He would make sure there was no one in the kitchen first.”
The family moved back to a bustling Chinatown after World War II. But in recent decades, the neighborhood has emptied out. Today, people like Kathy Omachi, president of Chinatown Revitalization, are trying to revive the area by offering tours that include places like Kogetsu-Do. She says it’s living history.
“And that you can’t really get books or pictures or stuff, because it’s this real touch of life, of what it means to have this kind of story right in your own back -yard,” Omachi said. “It’s a treasure.”
Omachi’s father was born here in China Alley, just behind Kogetsu-Do. She says the bakery has made immigrants feel more at home.
“It was a long-term endeavor that really improved all the traditional foods that people had built their lives around when they came to the United States,” she says. “And he’s a pillar of our community.”
Ikeda’s 21-year-old daughter, Emi, sometimes helps customers at the bakery.
She is the only successor to the bakery, but she has no intention of taking it over, so her long-term future is uncertain. Still, says Emi, she respects the craft.
“You just have to put in all the right ingredients, steam it, in time. You really have to know how to time and then get by with the machines because they’re all old, from the 1900s,” she says of this endangered art. “It’s like time travel.”
One of the many reasons customers keep coming back to Kogetsu-Do.