Umami Mart co-owners Yoko Kumano (left) and Kayoko Akabori. Photo: Sarah Han

Umami Mart, a retail shop in Old Oakland that focuses on Japanese food and drink culture, sells all the components to enjoy your favorite adult beverages from fancy, well-designed bar tools and glassware. There are also bottles and cans of Japanese craft beer, sake, shochu and whisky. But one thing that the shop has never been allowed to do is serve alcohol on site. Now, if things go smoothly for Umami Mart co-owners Kayoko Akabori and Yoko Kumano, that will change. On Wednesday, a public notice of application to sell alcohol was put up at 4027 Broadway in Temescal, where the business partners plan to move their retail shop and open a tasting room.

Kumano, who is a certified sake specialist, said a tasting room was always part of the business plan, but it wasn’t in the cards for their current space. When they opened the shop at 815 Broadway in 2012, the space was not permitted or zoned for selling or serving alcohol. In 2014, Umami Mart was granted a license to sell beer and sake, and this March it obtained the license to sell distilled spirits, too. But the tasting room never materialized, which has always been a sore point for the co-owners.

“People would come into the shop and ask, ‘Can I taste this?’ or ‘Do you ever do tastings?,'” said Kumano. As Umami Mart sells imported alcohol from Japan, some of the offerings are unfamiliar to local shoppers, many of whom hope to get a taste before they commit to buying a full bottle. The tasting room will allow curious drinkers to try the sakes, beers and select shochu (those that are under 25% ABV).

The plan for the new location of Umami Mart is to have the retail store in the front with a tasting room in the back, most likely cordoned off by a rope or a curtain to separate the two areas. Unlike a bar or taproom, Akabori (a former bartender and certified shochu advisor) said the tasting room will be open during limited hours, most likely on weekends and for events. While the tasting room is licensed as a beer and wine bar, it is allowed “limited pour of hard alcohol” when an alcohol maker or distributor is present. Akabori and Kumano said they plan to bring in sake and beer brewers, and maybe even hard liquor distillers, for special events.

Japanese beer, sake, shochu and whisky at Umami Mart’s Old Oakland shop. Photo: Sarah Han

The partners are excited about the move to Temescal, where they feel they’ll be surrounded by like-minded food and drink businesses, including Bernal Cutlery, Clove and Hoof, Teni East Kitchen and Copper Spoon.

“We’re super excited to be in the neighborhood; it’s close to the freeway, it’s a good thoroughfare and people all over the Bay Area can easily visit us,” said Akabori.

Umami Mart (where, full disclosure, this reporter used to work) must go through a 30-day public comment period, when neighbors can bring up any concerns they might have about the shop’s plans. Akabori said, so far, feedback from other businesses and residents has been positive. If smooth sailing continues, Umami Mart will open in Temescal in April 2019.

Sarah Han was the editor of Nosh from 2017 to 2021. Previously, she worked as an editor at The Bold Italic, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. In 2020, Sarah won SPJ NorCal's...