While the doughnut, as most Americans know it today, may have been invented by a European immigrant, there are some who might argue it was perfected in Japan — in the form of the mochi doughnut. Chewy (thanks to the use of rice flour), not too sweet, and, often, molded into the easy to pull apart — and frankly adorable — “pon de ring” shape first popularized in Japan by the Mister Donut chain, mochi doughnuts have been an object of cult fascination in the Bay Area for the past few years.
Now, East Bay doughnut lovers can get them delivered to their doorstep by the boxful, courtesy of Mochill Mochidonut, San Francisco’s best-known slinger of the matcha-glazed and kinako-dusted treats, which just opened a second location in East Oakland’s Jingletown neighborhood.
The new shop will lean almost entirely into delivery: It isn’t a traditional storefront at all, but rather a virtual operation set up inside a shiny new CloudKitchens facility (ex-Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s chain of ghost kitchens). There’s no display case for walk-up customers who like to browse and point. Instead, all orders are placed online, via Mochill’s website or a third-party delivery app, for pickup or delivery to anywhere within a five-mile radius — a range that should cover most customers in Alameda County.
For East Bay customers, the new setup will come with a number of perks: While Mochill’s small kiosk in Japantown was only able to offer a rotating selection of six flavors at a time, the Oakland shop will carry all 16 flavors at all times — including fan favorites like hojicha (roasted tea) and mango, which only show up in the San Francisco display case a couple of times a month. The Oakland shop is also the only location that will carry Mochill’s new line of gluten-free mochi cupcakes — available in several of the popular doughnut flavors, like kinako (soybean powder), matcha, and Fruity Pebbles.
Taisuke Yamamoto — whose father, Akimune Yamamoto, owns both Mochill Mochidonut and its sister business, Takoyaki Yama-chan, the takoyaki stand adjacent to Mochill’s location inside the Japan Center mall — says the new delivery-oriented shop is just an extension of the adjustments his family’s business has had to make in order to survive the pandemic. When the shelter-in-place order came down in mid-March, the Japan Center closed its doors entirely, which meant that Mochill had to quickly create a new online ordering system in order to stay open, handing customers their doughnuts from a booth it set up outside the mall. The shop also signed up with the third-party delivery companies for the first time.
It wasn’t an easy transition, and sales initially dropped by more than 50 percent, Yamamoto says. Still, the company’s new delivery focus helped keep it afloat — and made Yamamoto a believer in the business model. After all, he says, with the new Oakland location, customers won’t have to worry about having to stand in a long line to order their doughnuts or assess the risk involved with leaving their homes.
Yamamoto, for his part, says Mochill’s mochi doughnuts are just a piece of his family’s broader mission to introduce Japanese food culture to American customers. And the year or so that’s passed since Mochill first opened have been an education for him, in terms of the differences between the respective doughnut cultures of America and Japan — the latter where, according to Yamamoto, doughnuts were mostly eaten as a small snack.
“I feel like people here in the U.S. are eating doughnuts for their primary meal,” Yamamoto says. Here, for a gathering, a customer might buy five dozen or 10 dozen doughnuts at one time. “I never saw that in Japan.”
Of course, all of those differences bode well for the company’s continued success, even as it puts a greater emphasis on delivery. It’s true that doughnut delivery never really used to be a thing in the Bay Area, but the last seven months of this pandemic have had a funny way of shifting people’s preferences and expectations. At any rate, the doughnut is a category of food that is, in many ways, built to travel — they aren’t any worse for the wear after sitting in a box for 30 or 40 minutes.
And a box of Mochill’s colorful treats, delivered to one’s doorstep? That might be exactly the kind of pick-me-up needed to help someone get through another long day of Zoom meetings.
Mochill Mochidonut’s new shop is located at 2353 E. 12th Street in Oakland. Order online only for pickup via the company’s website, or place a delivery order through DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, or Postmates.