Inbound Ambassador

‘Oheso’ Belly-Button Cafe + Bakery

‘Oheso’ means belly-button in Japanese, the center core of the body where good food is sourced from- this is the idea behind the name of Frank and Kyoko’s business in Sera, Hiroshima.

International couple Frank & Kyoko first met while working on organic farms in Italy on the WWOOF (Willing Workers On Organic Farms network program. They fell in love, got married two months after they met and decided to move to Japan to start an organic farm in Kyoko’s hometown of Sera.

In the video above, Frank introduces the bakery and cafe and tells us a little about the business. They first moved to Kyoko’s hometown to run an organic farm, but as the landlord offered them the use of the adjacent farmhouse, that soon turned into running a small cafe.

International Culture Bridging

Introducing ‘hard’ bread, vegan cheese pizzas and organic farming have brought some great features of sustainable healthy living, which are popular abroad, to the countryside area of Sera. As an international couple, Frank and Kyoko have also been able to create connections between Japan and Europe.

The cafe became a bigger success and they started to make and sell their own baked goods. Despite being Spanish, not Italian, they started serving handmade sourdough bread pizzas by local request. The popularity of the pizzas then turned into a pizza oven import business from his hometown in Spain- a pizza oven just big enough to fit in the back of a ‘Kei-truck’ typical worker’s vehicle in Japan. Thanks to growing popularity, they were able to open a bigger bakery, run a delivery service for shops in Hiroshima and Fukuyama as well as sell products online.

Frank told me that again responding to a local customer’s request, he has been able to add the signature Spanish dish Paella to the Oheso cafe menu. Now on the menu, there is both a traditional seafood paella and a vegan paella- I can’t wait to try the Vegan version of their Paella on my next visit.

Oheso’s European style ‘hard’ breads are healthy enough to eat everyday unlike typical bread sold in Japan. Most of the bread is vegan and most of the ingredients used are organic. Frank has also created a delicious vegan cheese for his pizzas and there are original sandwiches and desserts for plant-based diners as well.

Sustainable Business Features

There are so many fantastic features of sustainability to be inspired by at Oheso in terms of reuse, rural area revitalization, plant-based vegan foods, locally sourced foods, building countryside destination appeal as well as organic farming and using organic ingredients.

Reuse of Akiya abandoned buildings

The Akiya (abandoned buildings) issue is a serious one in Japan. In 2019, Japan Times cited that more than 8.5 millions buildings are abandoned Akiya across Japan which are especially problematic in rural areas. Since moving into Sera village, Frank and Kyoko have put three old buildings to good use. Frank told me when they first moved in, they only had $1,000 to start a business and only intended to start an organic farm, but when the landlord also offered them use of the 160-year-old farmhouse next to the field, they worked hard to remodel it into what is now the popular Oheso cafe.

As business picked up, they also started remodeling an abandoned Yamazaki convenience store on the main road which has become their Oheso bakery. To keep up with demand for the deliveries to Fukuyama, Hiroshima and the online shop, they then remodeled an abandoned gas station next to the bakery which has become their main baking facility and classroom for baking workshops.

Rural Revitalization

As the population decreases, the rural areas are particularly hard-hit. Frank and Kyoko have done a lot to create appeal for this small countryside area by creating employment for locals as well as drawing visitors to the area to buy their bread and eat at the cafe. Frank told me most of his customers are people who drive over from Hiroshima and Fukuyama cities. Sera is a popular destination for weekend drives as people come out for its fruits, vegetables, and flowers- being able to stop and shop or eat at Oheso provides a reason to stay longer and leave more money in the local economy.

Vegan, Vegetarian & Organic

Creating an organic farm and using organic ingredients has also created demand for more sustainable local products and healthy ingredients in Sera as well as for Japan in general. Frank says he is registering to be certified with the Japan Organic certification board. Oheso is already listed as an artisan bakery in Japan and the vegan breads and pizzas are now sold at Ohsawa Japan– the biggest retailer of macrobiotic, vegan, vegetarian and organic foods in the country.

The vegan pizza available at the cafe, in the bakery and at the online shop is made on their famous sourdough crust and has a rich and savory white sauce type cheese made of coconut milk, oils, and nutritional yeast. It’s really worth the drive to the countryside!

Offering vegan and organic products is not only particularly attractive to international residents and visitors as most Japanese eateries and shops provide few plant-based options, but as Frank says, ‘it’s healthy foods you can enjoy eating every day’.

Waste Reduction

Although most of the breads in the bakery are in typical plastic bags, if you get there early in the day, or request in advance, you can get it wrapped in paper or use your own bags. They use paper take out boxes for their pizzas at the cafe and try to put more breads in a single plastic bag than a typical Japanese bakery. Frank is also working hard to reduce food waste as he develops a new fast-freeze packaging of his most popular breads so restaurants only have to use what they need and there is less food waste. Food waste is a serious issue in Japan.

Oheso also provides regular and consistent products and services for both locals and visitors to enjoy year-round which is an important factor of sustainable business and sustainable tourism. Many rural areas struggle with staying open regularly, but if places are often closed, customers stop making the effort to go and it is an issue for creating steady, sustainable demand.

I appreciate all the hard work Frank and Kyoko put into running Oheso as a sustainable business that is helping people, planet and the economy. Make sure to follow the Oheso Facebook page and official Oheso website. I’d recommend a visit to the Oheso shop in Sera if you are in the Hiroshima area with a car, or trying some of the amazing bread and pizzas from the online shop.

#sustainablebusiness #socialentrepreneur #baker #community