When high-end Japanese shokupan (milk bread) bakery Ginza Nishikawa opened its first US location in a Los Angeles ghost kitchen last July, the $18 loaves sold out almost immediately every day via a online ordering system. “We open at 8 a.m. and within two or three minutes everything sells out,” says co-owner Noriko Okubo. “It’s almost like getting a concert ticket.”
Okubo initially thought the massive orders came from customers feeding large families or hosting gatherings, but when Yelpers complained the bread was being resold for a markup ($22 to $33) on Chinese social shopping platform Xiaohongshu ( including a photo of a car trunk filled with 50 loaves), she limited online sales to three loaves per customer. Even after the quota was set, the same shoppers placed multiple orders to circumvent the new system, leading to a notice posted on the bakery’s website threatening to ban anyone violating the policy.
The milk bread craze might have something to do with the popularity of Ginza Nishikawa in Japan. Since its inception in 2018, the bakery has expanded to 130 locations and consolidated its presence in the local luxury white bread market. While shokupan is widely available in Japan and often found in convenience stores and discount markets, Ginza Nishikawa has taken the product to the next level with its preservative-free breads. Made with ionized alkaline water, Canadian wheat flour ground in Japan, cream, butter and honey, the recipe yields a golden-crusted bread that is silky and cloudy in texture with just a hint of candy.
Okubo, who is based in Tokyo but spent part of her childhood in the United States, remembers visiting her grandmother in Japan. The memory of her grandmother making shokupan with butter and a pinch of salt galvanized her to become a Ginza Nishikawa franchise owner, along with local beauty salon owner Hiroko Mori Fujikawa. “It was about bringing something very cultural and special [to Japan] more [to the U.S.]“says Okubo. “We have the opportunity to bring it back to the West, where white bread comes from.”
Okubu felt the timing was perfect to introduce Ginza Nishikawa to LA, as the luxury shokupan market that boomed between 2018 and 2019 in Japan had become oversaturated; the brand faced fierce competition from other suppliers. Okubo envisioned a physical location when she originally planned to open the LA bakery, but the pandemic changed her plans. “I only think of [working out of] ghost kitchens because I want to do something different from what is done in Japan,” she says. “I think ghost kitchens are the new way to do business.”
A month before the opening of its first outlet in the United States, the Japanese head baker of Ginza Nishikawa traveled to Los Angeles to train staff. On a daily basis, the Los Angeles branch is required to send photos of the bread-making process and the finished product so that the Japanese headquarters can check the quality remotely.
While Ginza Nishikawa doesn’t usually offer bulk orders, the bakery has made an exception for Interstellar, a Korean American cafe in Santa Monica where chef-owner Angie Kim makes Japanese sandos using the milk bread. “When I open the bag and inhale the freshly baked bread, it’s heaven,” Kim says. “The taste, the softness, the texture, the density – everything about this bread is perfect, and I fell in love with it the first time I tried it.”
While a few dozen loaves are available for walk-in purchases at Colony’s Ghost Kitchen, queuing at the Ginza Nishikawa website is the best way to score a loaf at the moment. Okubu is currently identifying potential additional markets for its business in Los Angeles and Northern California.
Ginza Nishikawa is open for online orders Wednesday through Sunday at 8 a.m. for pickups at Colony Ghost Kitchen (11419 Santa Monica Boulevard) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.