Above: Japanese Plate – saba, takoyaki, salad, and miso soup; all photos from Hoshinoya’s Facebook page
There are two types of restaurants: those with a specific cuisine, and those with hybrid fusions. If you’ve ever wondered what Thai-Japanese food tastes like, Hoshinoya’s your answer.
Owner Nuttawat Wongpisethkul bought Hoshinoya this past March, though he’s far from new to the restaurant scene. Having previously owned Osha Thai for 20 years—now owned by his ex-wife—Nuttawat’s expanding his offerings with a Japanese influence. Originally from Bangkok, Thailand, Nuttawat’s decades in San Francisco have launched him into this strategic new creation.
All genius aside, the pandemic’s proven challenging for Nuttawat, as he admits to feeling like he’s starting over. Launching a new business left him ineligible for PPP and the restaurant opening was put on standby. Nuttawat explains, “I got Hoshinoya before the pandemic so it hurt a little bit…it delayed the construction, every process…permits…[the] transfer of the liquor license…a lot of stuff [had] to go electronic.” Amidst the struggle, Nuttawat’s food makes for a worthy hustle.
In Japanese, Hoshi means “Star” and Noya means “Place.” Together, the translation of Hoshinoya means “Place of Star.” After a two-decade groove in the Thai food scene, one must wonder how Japan came into play.
Nuttawat explains, “I love to travel. I like Japan so I loved Japanese food. My girlfriend used to study in Japan when she was young…lived with a family [who] taught her how to cook ramen.” Coincidentally, Nuttawat’s girlfriend’s American name is Stella, which also means star. It’s impossible to dismiss the astral alignment for these two in the making of Hoshinoya.
Beyond Nuttawat’s Thai food background, Stella also has culinary and food business experience. She ran Home Plate—an American breakfast joint—before her ex-husband took over. In addition to her studies in Japan, Stella studied at Le Cordon Bleu. Through their parallel journeys, Nuttawat and Stella have helped each other take the San Francisco food market by storm.
During Stella’s time at Home Plate, Nuttawat helped her expand at a new location. Once they moved, the original spot was available to launch a test kitchen for Hoshinoya. The test kitchen was called Hoshi Ramen and Rice, a foreshadowing of Hoshinoya already in its name.
The test kitchen was open for a year until March 2020 when a spot availed itself for Hoshinoya. After testing the market, Nuttawat mentions their greatest difficulty being the lapse in time between the test kitchen and their current location.
Nuttawat explains, “We could not tell our customers we were moving because we closed for COVID-19…for 2-3 months [while doing] construction at the new place.” People couldn’t know the two were related, but Nuttawat assures they’ve gained some traffic through word of mouth, Instagram, and Yelp. The puzzle pieces are coming together.
The rollercoaster’s resulted in Nuttawat’s original eight or nine-person staff dwindling to three. “They left and got new jobs because of the pandemic. Some left the country…” Among those remaining, the former Thai restaurateur’s team successfully landed in Japantown with something as authentic as ever.
A Fresh Start
Despite the tumult, Nuttawat remains hopeful. “Everything’s getting better I hope…” he starts. When asked specifics on how he infuses Thai into the food he serves, Nuttawat light-heartedly jokes, “It’s a secret.” There’s nothing like a mystery to entice business – that’s when you know you’re in for a treat.
He does share about their most popular dish, Gyukotsu. It’s beef ramen, so Hoshinoya combines short rib with tonkotsu—a traditional ramen broth. Nuttawat mentions that their short rib’s braised overnight and already, they have beyond 15 requests for Gyukotsu each day.
Nuttawat suggests that open-mindedness ensures the best Hoshinoya experience. “We are not Japanese but we can cook Japanese food because we learn from Japanese [culture].” He illuminates the beauty of melding and honoring other cultures through food fusions. Further, Nuttawat announces not only do they also offer Thai dishes, but they intend to serve American and Japanese breakfast in the near future. There’s never a dull moment at Hoshinoya!
It’s obvious to see how Nuttawat’s past has informed his hopeful future. Hoshinoya’s eclectic offerings represent the innovation needed to raise spirits right now. Come support Hoshinoya for your Japanese and Thai cravings wrapped all in one!