Toronto's secret Japanese convenience store is so popular they're always sold out
A secret new Toronto pop-up with a Japanese convenience store theme has gained so much popularity they're selling out on the regular.
Mini Konbini deals in fare like katsu sandos, fried chicken, miso soup, onigiri, dorayaki, mini corn dogs, hanami dango (traditionally eaten during the spring) and other small snacks the likes of which you might find at a corner shop in Japan.
A konbini is a one-stop shop in Japan that's typically open late at night.
The first pop-up was a cash-only affair at Mark's Pizzas on Sept. 27, 2020. Another followed on Nov. 29, and not long after that a fried chicken holiday family meal for Dec. 23 sold out.
"I was blown away by the response, with people lining up around the block," Aiden Tranquada, the one-man operation behind Mini Konbini, tells blogTO.
"My first popup, in September 2020, sold out in a few hours. My second sold out even faster."
Tranquada first visited Tokyo in 2015 as part of a band for a metal music festival and then went again on vacation in 2017, and fell in love with it. He decided move there in 2019 to live and work for a year, at famous izakaya Gonpachi in Shibuya, Tokyo where he trained as a yakitori chef, and later at Michelin-starred Lurra in Kyoto.
"Those in the hospitality industry know that convenience can be a big factor in what you eat after a 15-hour shift," he says. "I often survived on konbini food."
"But unlike the day-old hot dogs and taquitos in North American convenience stores, Japanese konbini offer a seemingly endless variety of delicious and affordable onigiri, amazing fried chicken, healthy soups, all sorts of sandwiches, pastries and even fresh produce."
COVID-19 broke out while Tranquada was in Japan and he was forced to come back to Toronto, but he brought back the inspiration of the convenient yet high quality food that had sustained him.
"I wanted to bring this concept to Canada in the form of a pop-up and really just have fun with it," he says.
He thought it would be a one-off, but he soon saw how the business model was perfectly suited to the takeout-only restrictions restaurants had to abide by during the pandemic and how he kept selling out, so he made it a full-time project.
The next pop-up is Apr. 30, and this time it's at Tallboys and only one item (the katsu sando) is available, as Tranquada thought it would be easier to accommodate more people that way. Still, preorders sold out in 48 hours.
Tranquada is looking to eventually open up his own kitchen and storefront, so more people will be able to get their hands on his konbini eats in the future.
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