Appreciating our Locally Crafted Tofu Partners during AAPI Heritage Month

This Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Bon Appétit Management Company is celebrating the vast culture and history of tofu across many Asian cuisines. There’s no better opportunity to highlight this special ingredient than through our very own Locally Crafted partnerships with family-owned tofu businesses. We are excited to feature two amazing partners: Meiji Tofu in the Los Angeles area and Bui Natural Tofu in Portland, Oregon.

Meet Meiji Tofu

Meiji Tofu is a family-owned tofu manufacturer led by Kurato and Koki Sato based in Gardena, California honoring traditional Japanese tofu making methods. They produce an array of fresh soy products, and supply some of the freshest tofu on the market to many of our Bon Appétit chefs in Southern California.

For the Sato family, the history of traditional Japanese tofu making runs deep. As Kurato explains, his father’s side of the family owned a few restaurants in their home city of Kagoshima, Japan back in the 80s and 90s. Upon opening Meiji Tofu, their mission was to “instill the old-world Japanese techniques my father learned growing up”, achieved through “luck, grit, and support from friends and family.”

The journey in tofu manufacturing hasn’t been easy, between late evenings and early mornings to ensure the freshest product is delivered to local businesses and grocery stores by opening hours. He shares, “our story of starting this tofu business is about survival.  And through this survival we’ve been fortunate to strengthen our familial bond and craft a shared legacy that’s extending our Japanese culture.”

Kurato shares, “the most important thing we’ve learned was just how much [our tofu business] connected the people of our neighborhood, which has a large population of Japanese and Japanese Americans. Most Japanese people grew up buying fresh tofu from their neighborhood tofu shop in Japan, and now we’re happy that we could be a small part of their weekly routine.” Our Los Angeles-area accounts are lucky enough to be one of those regular customers to have reliable access to a fresh, hand-crafted product made by Kurato and his team at Meiji Tofu.

Behind the Scenes at Bui Natural Tofu

Bui Natural Tofu is a longtime Farm to Fork partner in Portland, Oregon, serving up both wholesale and retail tofu products and other Vietnamese traditional foods including salad rolls, sticky rice, and more. Minh Bui has run the business with his family since 2005. He explains, “the tofu business is keeping our family together. When we’re together we are encouraged to keep our culture and pass it down to the next generations,” while using the same methods their family used back in Vietnam.

The Bui family’s plan was never to start a tofu business. Minh reflects on his childhood in Southern Vietnam under the communist regime, which imprisoned his father for six years. “My mom was the head of the family with 10 kids. She was just a stay-at-home mom before that. To support the family, she learned how to make tofu and sold her products to merchants at the market. The process was completely manual and hard work so when our family came to the US in September of 1994, we said we will never touch soybeans again.”

As you might guess that sentiment didn’t last long. The Buis quickly noticed that they couldn’t find the same quality of tofu in grocery stores in the US compared to what was available in Vietnam. So, they decided to start making small batches for family and friends in their garage. Word spread fast, as more and more neighbors started asking if they could purchase their homemade tofu. Soon enough, they moved the operation from their garage to their current location in the summer of 2005 to start selling tofu commercially.

Minh shared, “we have a great relationship with everyone at Bon Appétit Management Company. They are very supportive of local businesses.” After starting off with supplying tofu to one Portland school over a decade ago, they now supply tofu to many colleges and corporate offices in the area. Due to the unmatched quality and flavor, it’s no secret why the Portland community (and our Bon Appétit chefs!) still can’t get enough of Bui Natural Tofu after all these years.