Friday, December 31, 2010

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City - Thank You for the 30 Years

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

When I was working in Culver City, there was a place that kept me alive and kicking for almost nothing. I wasn't making much and over the 3 years, I frequented a place called Tokyo 7-7, a tiny, divey coffee shop run by a few Japanese ladies. Since 1980, they served breakfast plates as low as $2.50 and was consistently filled with loyal customers wearing suits, service uniforms and baggy jeans. It was a real mix of people that would otherwise never be found in the same building unless it was the DMV. At that time, Downtown Culver City was developing into a "foodie" district and was sarcastically dubbed as “CuCi” for its semi-pricey lunch and dinner spots. Amidst the transformation, this tiny alleyway gem continued to keep things real. Real cheap.

Sadly, on December 18, those that frequented Tokyo 7-7 would remember this quaint business as real soul food. The food is nothing to write about, but sometimes it doesn't have to be good to have an impact on you. Everyone out there has his or her favorite restaurant, but at the end of the day, I'm sure most will take a home-cooked meal with the family over any Michelin-star restaurant.

The same thing happened to a neighborhood izakaya in West Los Angeles called Terried Sake House. A place where you could find some of the lowest priced yakitori skewers, sushi and other Japanese-y food. It was a place my friends and I would meet up to feed on various chicken parts and drink atrocious sake. But it was fun and our. And after 25+ years of working the kitchen, I could see that the owner was tired. During its last week of business, we found ourselves waiting nearly 30 minutes for a table in a full house, with a good 15-20 people waiting outside. We did the same thing, got our gizzards and hearts, ordered cheap sake and even stole one of the menus which was taped to the sake box cardboard. When we were done, we all went to shake the owners hand and thanked him for his 25+ years of service. I asked him what his plans were in which he replied with a weary smile, "travel. I'm done here."

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

As with Terried Sake House, it was now time for the sweet ladies of Tokyo 7-7 to move on. I drove down to Culver City on a weekday morning and found a line out the door. Because I was alone I was able to pull up on a 2-top easily. It was packed here at 8 am. I came here for my last Japanese American-style breakfast and to say goodbye to a great coffee shop.

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

When you walk in you really get the feeling of being in someone's house with autographed photos of the forgotten – Pat Morita of Karate Kid, random Japanese MLB players and a signed photo of Bob Sagat and The Full House cast. This was Napoleon Dynamite's house.

The signs of this establishment being Japanese run are subtle at first, but one look at the condiments supplied and you can sense the Japanese influence. They've got the usual suspects, but there's also soy sauce and Japanese seven-spice pepper called shichimi togorashi.

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

And then you see this sweet lady, Kazuko Ozawa from Shizuoka, Japan, who has owned this place for 30 years with the first 3 years at a different location. Even after so many years, she still buzzes around the restaurant with a warm smile. In one of the photos framed, you can see a younger Ozawa-san serving customers. It was definitely photographed in the 1980's. Crazy to think I was just a baby when she was setting up shop in Culver City.

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

And then there's her counterpart, Chizuru Okumura of Kumamoto, Japan who has worked there for 20 years. She's like an Aunt to me and always knows that I like to add the shichimi togorashi and seaweed condiment to my food – scratching her head as I add seaweed on top of my fried eggs.

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

When you order items like miso soup, which was at one time $0.80, you're given a pair of wooden chopsticks. Miso soup is good for washing down syrupy pancakes.

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

Certainly an average bowl of miso soup that is missing a key ingredient like dashi no moto fish stock powder, but who's complaining at $1 a bowl.

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

Tokyo 7-7 Hawaiian Royal
Anyone but Sandra Lee can make this, but why not let Tokyo 7-7 do it for you for a mere $4.50. Plus you don't have the essence from a 30-year old seasoned grill. It's something a college kid would make... unevenly scrambled eggs, your choice of meat, onions and scallions and served over warm Japanese rice. A little dash of soy sauce, shichimi togorashi and seaweed flakes and you're good to go. My friend who ate here 3 times during their last week of business ordered this every time.

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

Portuguese Sausage with Two Fried Eggs & Rice
Hawaiians eat this sausage like it grows off trees. It's slightly smokey and sweet and even served at the McDonald's in Hawaii. I love this stuff. Even more with nicely fried eggs and Japanese rice. Again, anyone can make this but there's something comforting about the way they do it.

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

After I took a photo of Ozawa and Ozumura, I asked Ozumura what she planned to do after this. She said, "I don't know but I am happy. 20 years is a long time!"

Tokyo 7-7 Coffee Shop, Culver City

So thank you to Kazuko Ozawa and Chizuru Okumura for the decades of service and ridiculously cheap food. I'm sure I'm not the only one that is bummed about their closure. I will miss the simple yet comforting food and the mother-like service. Would love to hear your thoughts on this place if you were a Tokyo 7-7 enthusiast. You'll be overjoyed to find out that some ubiquitous American Italian joint will be serving up mediocre pizza and bland salads in its stead. But if they do happen to serve some miso soup and Portuguese sausage pizza, I may drop by the building for old times sake.

Send any of your photos to the Tokyo 7-7 website which plays a solemn instrumental song or "Like" them on Facebook. They've got a photo of the coffee shop completely gutted out. Thanks for reading.


Grathy said...

Oh boy, this is a great homage to a wonderful Culver City secret. And your photos are dynamite as well. Is it Rocco's that shoving them aside, or did they elect to go on their own? I wonder if the family owned the building?

Janet Wise said...

I have taken entire classes of nursing students (10) there as my treat on the last day of clinical. All of us could eat lunch for $50. It was a nice place to go where everyone could find something to eat, they served a very wide variety of foods.

KirkK said...

Hey Dylan - You looks like they've done quite a job. Most of the places I call old style AJA diners have closed their doors a lot earlier back home in Hawaii. This is the kind of food I grew up eating.

e d b m said...

Grathy, yes it's Rocco's. The family's lease probably ended or they were being pressured by the "CuCi" committee to sell. 30 years is still a long time.

JanetWise, haha yeah you can easily feed a family of four for under $20. There was always something you could order.

Kirk! Happy new year dude. Yeah they definitely did well. I don't know what it is about Portuguese sausage and eggs!

Tryabreathmint said...

it is truly amazing that you can make a hole-in-the-wall joint look so deliciously tantalizing. i love the photos so much that i want to try this place!

hadashi said...

gorgeous photography. thanks for the portraits of a truly special place. came here for over 15 years and loved every royale and 7-7 special i ever had. thanks for this tribute!

BruBruBlah said...

I like the miso soup shot that looks like the bowl is floating. Thanks for sharing the story. It sure brings up some good memory.

Tessa said...

Wow you're amazing! I'm a new follower now :)

Maybe you can follow me back too?

e d b m said...

Tryabreathmint, thanks.

Hadashi, wow 15 years. I'm sure it hasn't changed much, guess that's what we like most about it.

BBBlah, thanks.

Tessa, thanks.

Unknown said...

i love how the set up looks like some random off the highway diner in the mid-west and it is all different when you walk in and see the menu/condiments!

gourmetpigs said...

This is sad, this place had sorta been on my radar for cheap food in the area, but in the end I never made it there :( Too late now ..

EricaSanae said...

i've been here! that's really sad, it's a little piece of history is being left behind. thank you for the excellent sentimental coverage.

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