Chances are, the last time you had a glass of sake, you were sitting in a sushi restaurant, washing bites of nigiri down with the Japanese rice wine. With the exception of a few higher end Japanese restaurants, that’s about the only context for drinking the stuff in the Bay Area, short of buying a few bottles and drinking at home.
Jake Freed and Hiroko Nakamura, the husband-and-wife team behind Shiba Ramen, want to change that.
Next year, they will open The Periodic Table, a beer and sake taproom next door to their flagship Shiba Ramen kiosk in the Public Market in Emeryville. The taproom is not just a gamble on the East Bay’s taste for sake, but also a bet on the desire for residents to come to the food hall, instead of a bar, in the evenings.
“The Public Market really needs to draw in an evening crowd,” said Freed. “It really needs a taproom.”
Luckily for Freed, the market’s landlord agreed, and had been looking for potential concepts to bring into the space. The market management had approached Freed and Nakamura for ideas, since, through their beer and ramen pairing dinners, they had already built up relationships with local brewers and other beer folks.
“Hiroko and I were talking about it over the summer,” said Freed. “We love beer and sake, so why don’t we open the taproom? We’re already there.” They pitched their idea of a beer and sake bar and Public Market immediately signed on. A lease was signed in July.
The Periodic Table will, as the name implies, have a chemistry theme. “We’re going to extend the theme of chemists building a ramen shop,” said Freed. “After all, alcohol is chemistry. We’ll draw that them in with the design, products, and branding. We’ll also do educational events and tastings.”
On tap will be between 10 and 15 different craft beers, most of which will come from the East Bay. “We want to celebrate the robust industry here,” said Freed. Some other California and American beers will be in play, as well as a few Japanese craft beers.
“Japanese craft beer is just starting to exist,” said Freed. Prior to 1994, Japan had strict tax laws that made it impossible for brewers to get a license without producing at least 2 million liters (528,000 gallons) per year. Mass-market beers from Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory dominated the marketplace. While smaller breweries are now able to produce, craft beer is still a much smaller industry in Japan than in places like the United States. “Even when we were in Japan [in 2015], [mass market beers] were the only beers around,” he said.
Shiba Ramen has already started serving some of these Japanese beers. It currently offers Yona Yona Ale, an American-style pale ale; Wednesday’s Cat (Suiyoubi no Neko), a Belgian-style white ale; and Tokyo Black porter by the can and bottle.
But most of The Periodic Table’s imports will come in the form of sake. “We love drinking sake, it’s a great beverage, but’s not a part of the everyday American drinking context,” said Freed. “It should be more widely available.”
As the couple as worked to do with their ramen shop, Freed and Nakamura want to make sake more accessible to the average customer. “Just like with ramen, most sake is done with very traditional label design and branding,” said Freed. “It doesn’t really resonate with people who aren’t connoisseurs.”
So instead of presenting sake in a formal environment that’s all about the specifics of the beverage, they’ll be serving it in a more casual manner. “We want to find a way to make sake an everyday thing,” said Freed. Instead of trying to be very specific about a sake’s technical classification as, say, a ginjo or a honjozo, Freed wants the bartenders at The Periodic Table to present sakes as simply sweet or dry, or perhaps by sharing “a cool label that [customers] will remember. … We want to democratize sake.”
Bar sales will be supported by a limited selection of sake bottles for purchase to take home.
And the plan is for guests to The Periodic Table to be able to order a bowl of ramen from next door, but they’ve got to order a beer to go with it. A menu of small plates, from both the Shiba Ramen menu and a new menu exclusive to bar, will also be available for nibbling.
Freed said he will be able to offer this menu because he’ll be moving much of Shiba’s ramen prep work to the new location in Oakland. The new Oakland spot, which will be downtown at 1438 Broadway, will be a 40-seat restaurant with table service. At lunch, it will have a similar menu to the Emeryville kiosk, but dinner will feature an expanded menu, with additional Japanese-inspired small plates and side dishes.
Freed and Nakamura have hired a new menu director and kitchen manager, who will head up the new menu development at both Shiba Ramen and The Periodic Table. “He is interested in Japanese food and is well trained,” said Freed. “We’re letting him run with the menu, … which will take the pressure off of Hiroko, who would rather be doing other things for the business than being in the kitchen all the time.”
The Periodic Table will stand out in the market not only for its beer offerings, but also for the fact that it is its own self-contained space in a sea of kiosks. There will be a bar and room for seating inside. Freed is excited that this set-up will allow him and Nakamura to do more on the design side.
Oakland-based architecture firm Arcsine, which worked on Calavera and Agave Uptown, among other local restaurants, is designing the bar. “The design is excellent,” said Freed. “I’m really excited about it.”
Drawings are in the works, and Freed hopes to get started with construction early next year. “We’re going to the get Oakland location open first, and then focus on this one,” he said. “It’s going to be a busy year.”
The Periodic Table will be next door to Shiba Ramen, at 5959 Shellmound St., Emeryville. Shiba Ramen Oakland will be at 1438 Broadway (between 14th and 15th streets), Oakland. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.