They opened their Nob Hill bakery with hopes and dreams, seed money and $16,615 from a Kickstarter campaign, a love of artisanal breads and a love of the Nob Hill neighborhood they hoped would love them back.
Yuko Kawashiwo and Nobutoshi “Nobu” Mizushima, a young couple from Japan by way of New York and Santa Fe, shared every step of their journey on their Kickstarter and Facebook pages, each update peppered with exclamation points, charming broken English and so much glee and gratefulness that it was hard not to be swept up in their excitement.
They called their business Ihatov Bread and Coffee, named for the magical place written about by their favorite author, Miyazawa Kenji.
“Ihatov means utopia, dreamland,” Kawashiwo said. “Harmonious.”
It was that for them.
And it seemed it might turn out to be that for neighbors and others, too.
In just 15 days in January, they got the couple to their Kickstarter goal of $12,000 and kept on donating.
“When we heard a bread shop was going in, there was a lot of excitement,” Nob Hill neighbor Patricia Parkinson said.
The couple transformed an abandoned building that had been an Arby’s and then a Starbucks and then a blight at Central and Tulane SE into a inviting spot filled with sunlight, fresh flowers on every table and the intoxicating scent of fresh-baked bread.
Ihatov, they hoped, would become a neighborhood hub, full of friendly faces and chatter over cups of coffee and croissants.
On March 4, the bread shop opened to crowds that raved over Mizushima’s artisanal baguettes, buttery biscuits, tangy sourdough and its unique pepper pear bread. Ihatov was well on its way to becoming the utopia the couple had dreamed of.
Then the world crashed.
Twelve days after Ihatov opened, the state imposed restrictions on all food service establishments in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, forcing establishments to operate at 50% capacity.
Then on Monday, as the virus continued to spread, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham ordered all businesses the state termed nonessential shuttered, leaving restaurants and eateries to survive on takeout and delivery and the kindness of customers.
Kawashiwo, reached moments after Lujan Grisham announced the shutdown, said she is unsure of how the order will affect their fledgling business.
But she is hopeful.
“A lot of our customers buy things to go here,” she said. “So maybe for our business it will not be too much affected?”
Especially with customers like the one from Sunday.
“He bought a lot of bread and pastries, maybe $100 or more,” Kawashiwo said. “He’s such a nice gentleman.”
Such a large purchase was a welcome boon for Ihatov business. But the benefit of the bread went far beyond the bakery’s cash register.
The man who bought the bread wishes to remain anonymous. But Nob Hill neighbors know who he is.
“I had gone over to his house, and he was in the process of bagging all this bread,” Parkinson said. “And then he hands me a bag to take home with me, and it was still hot and so good.”
What her neighbor did was so good.
“He just decided he was going to help out this little store and then help out his neighbors,” she said. “It was such a lovely gift.”
But it was more than that, she said.
“Something like that just makes me hopeful,” said the former state Public Education Department assistant secretary who these days enjoys performing nondenominational marriages under social distancing-appropriate parameters. “We are all looking for emotional safety, especially in these scary, isolated, uncertain times and a world that was already lacking in communication. A simple thing like bread between neighbors offers us a little of that, a little of the reminder that we are all in this together and can pull together.”
If more of us who are able make efforts such as this, break bread together but apart, we just might pull through this thing a little more harmoniously.
And wouldn’t that be some kind of utopia.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.