In an era where big business and commercial chains seem to be taking over, it can be hard to find places to go that feel as though they have a sense of uniqueness and individuality—places that aren’t just following corporate models. It doesn’t take long for Panera mac ’n’ cheese or caramel macchiatos from Starbucks to start to feel boring and commonplace. Fortunately, the city of Boston provides ample opportunity to go search for these “one-of-a-kind” locations, a shining star of which is Japonaise Bakery in Brookline.
Just across the street from the St. Marys Street stop on the Green Line, Japonaise Bakery provides a much-needed change of scenery from the typical bakery cafes in the area. Japonaise is a family-owned, Japanese-French fusion bakery serving classic and creative baked goods that blend Eastern and Western flavors.
Walking into the bakery, the comforting smell of warm fresh bread hits immediately. This scent, however, is slightly sweeter than that of typical bread. Japonaise uses milk in its bread—it’s traditional in Japanese sweet bread recipes to use milk for extra lightness—and red bean paste, which is usually used in pastries.
Although Japanese-French fusion might sound unusual, Takeo Sakan, the owner of Japonaise, explained that this is actually a common combination. To the Japanese, French pastries are the best, and the Japanese try to mimic that in their baking, Sakan said.
“My mom always said that American pastries are just too sweet, too heavy. French pastries are less sweet, lighter. Japanese pastries are even lighter and even less sweet,” Sakan said.
Sakan took over the quaint bakery about four years ago when his mother, who had been running the shop since its beginning in 1985, decided to retire.
“That wasn’t my dream—I never really wanted to be a baker,” Sakan said, “When I was 19, I got pulled in. She asked me to leave college and come back and help her.”
Despite knowing the long, gruesome hours that came with the job, Sakan came back to the bakery to support his mother and her business. But what he thought would be a temporary three-month position ended up turning into his entire career.
“I love making things with my hands and making the really good stuff that people will enjoy,” Sakan said. “That’s why the best thing about it is that people come all the time and tell us, ‘This is the best. We’ve been coming here 20 years or 30 years.’”
Japonaise serves a wide array of pastries, ranging from traditional French croissants, cookies, and crème brûlée to typical Japanese sweet breads. The bakery recently started introducing savory foods to the menu, such as onigiri—a rice sandwich stuffed with different fillings and wrapped in nori, an edible seaweed.
“Sometimes I think I could just close shop and open an onigiri store,” joked Sakan.
Despite adding new items to the menu, Sakan said the savory snacks make up at least 15 percent of his total sales and continue to climb in popularity.
But for Sakan and his mother, the bakery is about more than just money.
“There’s nothing [in the bakery] I don’t enjoy making,” Sakan said. “If I didn’t enjoy making it, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t [make it]. My mom never did this business just for money— that’s not my mindset. We’re proud of what we do. We make a killer product and people love it, so, you know, I take pride in the stuff that I shape.”
Sakan described the kitchen of Japonaise as one filled with inexperienced bakers who just love to make food. Still, he trains his employees to make quality cuisine—a legacy he said both he and his mother are proud of.
Along with the baked goods, Japonaise also includes a full espresso bar that features popular drinks like bubble tea and a small market section with Japanese snacks, bottled drinks, and candy. The bakery is open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. With seating both indoors and outdoors, Japonaise is great for a quiet spot to go to study, hang out with friends, or just to try something new.
Featured Image by Alexa Spitz/Heights Staff