Chef's Thoughts on Tokyo:
A Slice of Hygge in Tokyo
The Dream of Japan
Kristina Ganea always had a love for Japan. In college she majored in economics with Japanese language and culture, and visited the country for the first time in 2004 as an international exchange student to study in both Kyoto and Tokyo. After graduating, she started a job as a Japanese equity analyst in Denmark and occasionally visited Japan. It was not until 2018, when her husband received a job offer in Tokyo, that they embraced what they had "always wanted to do" and moved to the land of the rising sun.
Ganea tells us that the move was relatively smooth sailing as people in the community "are super friendly and very helpful." In particular, the parents at her daughter's school, both expat and Japanese, advised the family on everything from where to buy necessities to how to find foreigner-friendly activities and local services like medical practices, etc.
The Courage to Pursue What You Love
Ganea was not always a baker. It started with a lot of trial and error and plenty of research, a skill she is particularly good at thanks to her background in analysis. When they first moved to Tokyo, her daughter's stomach did not agree with the bread on the market, and, as she tried to figure out how to help her, she found baking. Ganea read about the health benefits associated with natural fermentation and the use of organic ingredients. She began experimenting with sourdough bread which uses naturally fermented yeast instead of packaged yeast that is often used in commercial bread. She then started making organic Danish rye bread, a traditional sourdough bread that was a dearly missed staple from home. From start to finish, the whole process, including fermentation, takes around three days.
As Ganea kindled a love for baking, it became evident that she had a talent. Together with a friend, she began strategizing a business plan. First, they opened an online business, renting out a studio apartment to use as a kitchen, and started baking to order. From there, they participated in farmers' markets, and as their popularity grew, orders flooded in. It was then that Ganea knew that they needed a physical bakery. It took about six months of research and dedication to compile everything necessary, but finally Ganea found the perfect location in Hiroo. Just a short distance from their home and school and also where most of their customers were based, Hiroo was ideal. On December 3, 2022, BRØD officially opened.
A Sense of Community
Ganea is very forthright that she could not have achieved everything she has without her amazing community. Through connections at the farmers' market, friends, and her own supportive team at the bakery, she has built an impressive network.
"In the baking community, people are really happy to share and help each other grow." Through her network she manages to source local and organic ingredients—an important mission at BRØD. For example, at the farmers' market they found an organic lemon producer and now bake with lemons that align with their mission.
Although Ganea began with a mostly foreign-based clientele, now it is almost a fifty-fifty split between local Japanese and international customers.
Successfully Launching a Business
Ganea admits that, with all the paperwork, running a business can be challenging, but the "Tokyo One-Stop Business Establishment Center（TOSBEC）" which is jointly operated by the Japanese Government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, has played a huge role in supporting her.
The center offers free lectures and one-on-one consultations for local and expat entrepreneurs, which are available in both English and Japanese. She is delighted that they even provide meetings with experts in certain fields, such as accountants etc. Overall, she says their service is very useful. In fact, she still uses it today, telling us that she recently learned about employment laws and how to make official contracts through their online resources.
As a self-taught baker and entrepreneur, Ganea encourages those with a dream to challenge themselves, not to overthink things, and to just go for it. Reflecting on her own experiences, she says, "If you have an idea and you think 'this is what I want to do,' you can just go for it. Try hard and eventually, if you try hard enough, you'll succeed."
Photos by Kiyofumi Kuratani