By Reika Nishiyama
For The North American Post
One day, my friend (who is not Japanese) gave me a sandwich from the TRES Sandwich House.
When I was walking to my classroom, another friend (also not Japanese) pointed to my sandwich and said “I know the shop, I love their sandwiches!”
I shared the sandwich with my Japanese friend and she said, “I miss Japan!”
The shop is run by a married Japanese couple. I wanted to ask them why their sandwiches are so loved by everybody.
“I make sandwiches that Japanese can be confident about eating.”
Interviewing Makoto Ogasawara, one of the founders of Sandwich House TRES and a current manager of the store, I could find his “kodawari,” which means to be particular about, to take something seriously, and to be committed to, in many parts of his stories.
“TRES means three in Spanish, and this represents the triangle shape of sandwiches and three of us who launched this sandwich store in Bellevue. When I came to the US from Japan in 2000, we worked at a tour company for Japanese visitors and international students from Japan. Two of my coworkers started planning to run a bakery in 2014, and I joined them. However, we had not worked in the food industry and did not have any experience making bread from scratch. However, if we opened a bakery, we wanted to have ‘kodawari’ about making the best bread.
“When I started thinking about launching a Japanese bakery, the Sandwich House Meruhen, which is located in several cities in Japan, came to my mind. The taste of the fruit sandwiches left an impression in my mind, and I thought that if we started a brand new sandwich ‘House’ in the US, people would love to come and eat. We all like to cook and were already good enough at cooking side dishes that would complement sandwiches. I kept cooking and experimenting with the filling ingredients and pursuing ‘kodawari.’ We put a lot of effort into cooking side dishes that Japanese people would also love to eat.
“However, the big problem was, none of us had ever made bread. We explored Asian grocery stores on the West Coast, in Los Angeles, etc., to examine the quality and sorts of sandwiches sold there. Then, we were convinced that we would be able to make higher quality sandwiches.
“We kept experimenting for three months. In the beginning, we asked Fuji Bakery to make our bread. They were very cooperative to pursue our ‘kodawari.’
“In the middle of 2015, a baker in Nagano city invited me to visit his bakery for five days to learn how to make high-quality bread. The bakery was also thinking of expanding its business to Seattle, so we could strengthen our relationship. After the training, we were able to eventually make our bread from scratch and kept using the recipe. When we make our bread, we also need to care about the water. It is said that water has a big influence on the quality of bread. Fortunately, Seattle has good water quality. In addition, we are using electrolyzed water which helps maintain the quality of the bread. Moreover, we have ’kodawari’ with flour. We experimented making sandwiches with many sorts of flour and found the best one.
“Now, we make around 1200 sandwiches every day. The bread makers are working 24 hours a day, and we cook ingredients each afternoon. The process of producing the sandwiches is challenging throughout our whole procedure, but it plays an important role in keeping our ’kodawari’ and quality up to par. Around 40 kinds of sandwiches are displayed on the shelves. One of our concepts is that we want customers to want to visit and eat our sandwiches again; we want to build long relationships with them. When I used to go to the Sandwich House Meruhen in Japan, I was a regular visitor. I was excited to think about the flavors I would buy the next time. I really appreciate that today there are many regular customers who visit TRES many times.
“I also have ‘kodawari’ about the TRES working environment. I want to enjoy working and I want all of our employees to feel the same. Thus, we usually prepare employee meals that are not sandwich-related. We have cooked dumplings, and today, we made poke-don (poke bowl). Thanks to these initiatives, our workplace has a home-like atmosphere.
Some employees work with their family members, which include parents, children, or siblings.
“Our value is not only to provide sandwiches that satisfy people in the US, but to make Japanese sandwiches that meet our desires.
“I feel that even if we do not try hard to make new sandwiches that cater to American tastes, people would prefer our sandwiches because it is what we love to eat. We wanted to make the sandwiches that we and other Japanese people would love to eat rather than to make Americanized ones. In the future, I want to expand TRES in different states.
However, it is not easy to do because the quality of sandwiches would change with each climate, water source, etc. We will keep pursuing our ‘kodawari’ from now on.”