When Koji, founder of ONIGILLY LLC, first came to the USA in 2006, he was surprised that with such an abundance of sushi restaurants, he couldn’t find his favorite food: onigiri (Japanese rice balls). Onigiri, with its more than 2,000 year history, is eaten more commonly than sushi in Japan.
One day, Koji visited a local elementary school and was shocked that many students’ lunches weren’t providing them the nourishment growing children require. This inspired him to develop the concept of introducing onigiri, a Japanese fast-food staple, to provide a delicious yet healthful, convenient alternative for both adults and children in the United States, where unhealthy junk food is so popular and commonplace.
Onigilly’s mission is to spread onigiri in the United States and contribute to better eating habits nationwide. Koji founded ONIGILLY LLC with this goal in mind back in 2007.
He put his commitment and passion in motion by applying for a food incubation program by La Cocina of San Francisco, which was established to support emigrant women and encourage their independence.
La Cocina understood Koji’s vision, and despite being outside of their typical demographic, supported Onigilly, which became their first business run by a male owner in the entire program. With constant and generous support by their volunteers, Onigilly has made a remarkable growth ever since.
In 2010, Onigilly was selected to be one of the street food businesses officially permitted to vend at San Francisco Park Department properties on a daily bases (among approximately 30 other competing applicants).
Even though it was not an easy task for Koji to introduce something new to this country, his passion and continuous quest for improvements—from the traditional style to a modern spin to cater to a U.S. audience—Onigilly gradually received more and more support and gained popularity with local San Franciscans.
Onigilly is particular about delicious and healthy ingredients. Everything is made from scratch and prepared fresh daily. In addition, as a finger food, chopsticks and forks aren’t required, and they using compost materials whenever possible (except for drink bottles, which are recyclable) to consider the environment.
“I have an infant son,” Koji explains. “I’d like to offer my customers the kind of food which I feel safe about feeding my own child. We plan to expand bigger and bigger, so I need to create a system to keep the waste at minimum now.”
Koji’s dream is to become the number one onigiri company in the world, with 500 locations as a national store in the USA, and create an environment where more and more people can discover this delicious, healthy, and handy fast food anytime, anywhere, which will lead to improvements in their eating habits.
Onigilly now sells via their food cart in Justin Herman Plaza, Civic Center Farmers’ Market, Off The Grid Markets, and other locations in San Francisco. They also sell at New People Building in Japantown every day.