Before the coronavirus, Kiyoi, a family-run wholesale business in San Mateo, supplied restaurants throughout Northern California with primarily Japanese ingredients, including fresh seafood flown in twice a week from Tokyo's famed Toyosu Fish Market. Kiyoi's restaurant customers include the Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshizumi and Sushi Sam's Edomata in San Mateo and Ebisu, Wako and Omakase in San Francisco (the latter two have Michelin stars). The company also supplies Japanese markets like Mitsuwa Marketplace and Nijiya Market.
A range of fresh tuna available from Kiyoi in San Mateo, from lean to fatty. Photo courtesy Kiyoi.
While Kiyoi's core business, restaurants, struggled to stay afloat last year, supermarket sales surged, co-owner Jeffrey Su said. So they leaned into the retail side of things and decided to start selling directly to consumers.
Kiyoi's online store includes everything from abalone and fatty tuna to rice, jidori eggs, fresh ramen noodles, salmon roe and cooking gear like a personal Ishi Yakiniku grill. Su said they plan to offer meal plans, such as all the ingredients to make sushi or bento boxes at home, and cooking videos from chefs they work with.
Su's parents started what he said was one of the area's first Asian wholesale companies after immigrating to San Mateo from Taiwan in the late 1970s. They realized most Chinese restaurants were purchasing ingredients from American companies that didn't speak their language or have specialty items. They started by selling canned goods out of their garage to local Chinese restaurants.
"My parents happened to find that niche market. They could speak the same language with all the incoming immigrants," Su said. "Our business was thriving."
In early 2013, his parents sold the business, but they didn't stay away for long. Su soon started Kiyoi with his mother Judy and one delivery driver, focusing on mostly Japanese restaurants in the Bay Area. Kiyoi now supplies more than 500 restaurants, from Sacramento to Monterey and as far inland as Modesto.
Kiyoi sells all the ingredients to make ramen at home, including fresh ramen noodles, cha shu pork, cage-free jidori eggs and nori. Photo courtesy Kiyoi.
Because of Kiyoi's wholesale connections, they can break down products like 33 pounds of pork belly into smaller portions appropriate for home cooks. The company recently started selling 2-pound trays of Berkshire pork specifically geared toward customers making hot pot at home, Su said. They're also developing a production facility to process fresh bluefin tuna, salmon and specialty fish.
"For people that really care about food, it really comes down to the ingredients. We try to make sure we offer the best ingredients," Su said.
Su said he's looking for new ways to support restaurants during this time, such as potentially converting the company's San Mateo headquarters into a food delivery and pickup hub that could expand their delivery range.
"This pandemic forced us out of our comfort zone and forced us to change," he said.
Kiyoi delivers to the 650, 415, 510 and 408 area codes, or customers can pick up their orders between noon and 6 p.m. at 1222 South Amphlett Blvd., San Mateo. Orders placed before 11 a.m. can be picked up the same day.