TaNoTaTakoyaki opened their brick-and-mortar Little Tokyo in 2018, but they’ve been part of the neighborhood as a food truck since 2010.

It was originally started by three surfing friends, Takeo, Nori and Taichi (hence TaNoTa). Takeo is now the sole owner of the brick and mortar storefront at Japanese Village Plaza.

Sharing the same space as okonomiyaki Chinchikurin restaurant, Takeo hopes to share Osaka’s food culture in the United States more widely and encourage more people to hang out in Little Tokyo.

Meet Takeo Shibatani, owner of TaNoTa Takoyaki.

How did you start in Little Tokyo?

Takeo Shibatani (TS): At first I started with Japanese food events in 2009. I knew I didn’t want to make ramen or sushi, but rather something different. I’m from Osaka, which is home to takoyaki, so I thought it was perfect, I’ll do it.

The first time we made takoyaki at a food event we had really long lines. People waited over an hour. It was crazy! So I thought it was a good business idea but a restaurant was overpriced and risky, so I decided to buy a food truck instead.

It was ten years ago, in 2010, and the first place we took our food truck was Little Tokyo. We parked on Second Street and I really pissed off a lot of people, but then the owner of Toshi Sushi [which is gone now] invited me to park in front of his shop and sell to his customers.

From that year we also did the Tanabata Festival and I met the owner of Fugetsudo, Brian Kito, with whom I fought a lot (laughs). Brian was really kind and patient to me; I was very young and had a lot to learn about running my business. I have learned a lot from people like Brian.

From 2010 to 2013 we were a food truck and from 2009 to today we have participated as a stand in gastronomic events. Finally, from 2018, we were finally able to open a store in Little Tokyo on First Street. The people of Little Tokyo have really helped me a lot over the years. I am an Issei, or first generation Japanese, and my English is not very good, but everyone here has helped me a lot.

What is your best memory of Little Tokyo?

TS: Definitely the Tanabata festival. Coming to this festival introduced me to so many Japanese Americans. Before that, I didn’t know much about American-Japanese history. I learned so much about the neighborhood and the history of Little Tokyo from my new friends at Tanabata Festival. I really treasure this community because of the kindness they have been to me.

You have been in Little Tokyo for ten years now. What do you recommend for someone visiting the neighborhood for the first time to do here?

TS: There are so many famous Japanese restaurants here, like Daikokuya or Monzo, but also great clothing stores like Popkiller and Japangeles. I also really like Hakata Ikkousha and Kouraku on Second Street.

What do you think sets Little Tokyo apart from all the other neighborhoods?

TS: I think the anime culture here is really unique and it doesn’t exist in other areas, not even in Sawtelle. Anime Jungle is really great because so many people visit Little Tokyo to go there and buy anime stuff but then eat or hang out around the neighborhood. It is a crossroads of so many people and we have become a meeting place for anime culture and Japanese food culture.

I realized that a lot of people come to our restaurant because they watch Japanese anime or read Japanese manga and see takoyaki in anime or manga and then want to try it. To me this is amazing because they already know a lot about our food even though they have never been to Japan.

TaNoTa Takoyaki and Chinchikurin are two separate companies sharing the same space. Why did you decide to collaborate for your restaurant?

TS: It was an easy decision. We are both pretty much unknown foods. By working together we can share Japanese culture and of course sell food, but we really want more people to know about Japanese food culture. In fact, we use the same teppan grill materials.

Our teppan grills are custom made in Japan for our okonomiyaki and takoyaki grills. Our teppan grills come from Japan and we’ve gone through a lot to get them approved in the United States, but now a lot of people are learning not only what our food tastes like, but how it’s prepared as well. We hope that we can be a flagship both for our unique equipment and for the style of our restaurant.

What is your hope for the future of Little Tokyo?

TS: I am from Japan but I have two sons and they were born here so they are American. I realized that they would grow up here and might not know Japan that well, which makes me a little sad. But here in Little Tokyo, they can be proud of the Japanese-American heritage, but also learn a lot about Japanese culture.

I hope they will have a good relationship with the Japanese and Japanese Americans and that’s why I opened my restaurant here. We are the largest historic Japantown and I want us to continue to grow and more Japanese and Japanese American owners to set up their businesses here as well.

This interview has been translated, edited and condensed for clarity.

TaNoTa Takoyaki
350 E. 1st St.
Los Angeles CA 90012
(213) 626-0481
https://takoyakitanota.com/