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  • Clara Kleindorfer

JiST Cafe: A Focus on Family

The following is a story from Caroline Shin, cofounder of JiST Cafe, about her journey in the restaurant industry and the focus on food as a family.

I went to Boston College to study business administration and marketing with a passion for cooking. As I entered my senior year in college and 9/11 happened, the job market was scarce and saw this as an opportunity to explore my passion for food. I took a leap of faith and applied for culinary school and have been in the industry ever since. I worked at the Omni Hotel DTLA in both the kitchen and front of house and moved onto the Four Seasons Hotel at Beverly Hills managing the restaurant and eventually moving to catering and conference services.

Right before the market crashed in 2008, after getting laid off, I started up Kogi BBQ with 2 other partners and focused on the food truck business. Once the business was established, I decided to venture on my own and start a small mom and pop brunch cafe called JiST with my friend and former boss Glen Ishii. We focused on family first as our concept and wanted to bring home cooking and comfort to the area of Little Tokyo where Glen grew up. Glen’s family had been in the restaurant business since the 1940’s when his grandmother immigrated from Japan. Shortly thereafter, his grandmother got sent to the Japanese internment camps in San Francisco during WWII. Upon returning, she saw that her restaurant was still intact and decided to continue with the business. The restaurant got passed down to his father, to his uncle and then to Glen as he decided whether to take on the challenge. The moment was serendipitous as his family was about to give up the restaurant and I started to look for a new journey to take. We came up with a breakfast concept inspired by both our Asian and our American heritage. We decided to pay homage to our mothers and their cooking by taking their initials, J&S and T&I and creating the restaurant JiST.

As Asians growing up in America, both Glen and I were able to experience many different flavors and cuisines in the LA area. We ate rice and soup at home and hard shell tacos and pizza with friends or at school. It was not unusual for me to have french toast for breakfast and ketchup fried rice for lunch. We felt the desire to share food that conjured up memories for us as kids which led to our menu featuring French toast, other breakfast sweets, and Asian inspired cafe dishes such as salads, burgers, and more.

COVID has been hard on the restaurant industry that already makes very slim margins. We ended up letting go of all but 1 staff member for the first few months of the lockdown, and have hired 2 back since then. We tried to keep our business afloat with family meals, selling groceries, masks and anything we felt the public might not be able to get on their own as cleaning supplies and toilet paper became scarce. We have been very diligent about sanitizing the restaurant and minimizing our interaction with guests, which has been hard because restaurants are mainly service oriented. We will hopefully be opening for outdoor dining in a month and finding ways to keep the public safe without taking away from the dining experience.

We did not experience any racial discrimination as business owners during the pandemic. We are fortunate enough to be situated in Little Tokyo where the Asian American community is strong. The Little Tokyo nonprofits helped keep business owners informed of initiatives and programs that were running within the community to help residents fuel the local community and economy and put money back into our neighborhood.

With patience we will get through this. We will probably have to put in more hours than before and sacrifice time with our families to keep the business alive, but it is not much difference from what we signed up for. No regrets as of yet.

Visit JiST Cafe!

Location: 116 Judge John Aiso St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

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