When high-end Japanese shokupan (milk bread) bakery Ginza Nishikawa opened its first U.S. location in a Los Angeles ghost kitchen this past July, the $18 loaves sold out almost immediately, every day, through an online ordering system. “We open at 8 a.m. and within two or three minutes it sells out,” says co-owner Noriko Okubo. “It’s almost like getting a concert ticket.”
Okubo initially thought that the massive orders stemmed from customers feeding large families or hosting gatherings, but when Yelpers complained that the bread was reselling for a markup ($22 to $33) on the Chinese social shopping platform Xiaohongshu (including a photo of one car trunk filled with 50 loaves), she limited online sales to three loaves per customer. Even after the quota was set, the same buyers placed multiple orders to skirt the new system, which led to a notice posted on the bakery’s website threatening to ban anyone who violated the policy.
The milk bread craze may have something to do with Ginza Nishikawa’s popularity in Japan. Since its founding in 2018, the bakery expanded to 130 locations and cemented its foothold in the local luxury white bread market. While shokupan is widely available in Japan and often found at convenience stores and markets at a low cost, Ginza Nishikawa took the product to the next level with its preservative-free loaves. Made with alkaline-ionized water, Canadian wheat flour milled in Japan, cream, butter, and honey, the recipe yields a golden-crusted loaf that’s silky and cloud-like in texture with just a hint of sweetness.
Okubo, who is based in Tokyo but spent some of her childhood stateside, remembers visiting her grandmother in Japan. The memory of her grandmother preparing shokupan with butter and a sprinkle of salt galvanized her to become a Ginza Nishikawa franchisee owner, along with Hiroko Mori Fujikawa, a LA-based beauty salon owner. “It was about bringing something that’s very cultural and special [to Japan] over [to the U.S.],” says Okubo. “We get the opportunity to bring it back to the West, where white bread came from.”
Okubu felt that the timing was perfect to introduce Ginza Nishikawa to Los Angeles, as the luxury shokupan market that boomed between 2018 to 2019 in Japan had become oversaturated; the brand was facing stiff competition from other purveyors. Okubo imagined a brick-and-mortar location when she initially planned to open the LA bakery, but the pandemic changed her plans. “I’m thinking of only [working out of] ghost kitchens because I want to do something different from what is being done in Japan,” she says. “I feel ghost kitchens are the new way of doing business.”
A month before opening its first U.S. outlet, Ginza Nishikawa’s Japanese-based head baker traveled to Los Angeles to train the staff. On a daily basis, the LA branch is required to send photos of the bread-making process and the finished product so that the Japanese headquarters can check quality from afar.
While Ginza Nishikawa does not usually offer wholesale orders, the bakery made an exception for Interstellar, a Korean American cafe in Santa Monica where chef-owner Angie Kim makes Japanese sandos using the milk bread. “When I open the bag and take a whiff of the freshly baked loaf, it is heaven,” says Kim. “The taste, the softness, texture, density — everything about this bread is perfection, and I fell in love with it the first time I tried it.”
While a couple dozen loaves are available for walk-in purchases at the Colony ghost kitchen, queuing up on Ginza Nishikawa’s website is the best way to score a loaf for now. Okubu is currently identifying potential additional markets for her business in Los Angeles and Northern California.
Ginza Nishikawa is open for online orders Wednesday through Sunday at 8 a.m. for pick-ups at Colony ghost kitchen (11419 Santa Monica Boulevard) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.