Joe Miyano and his friends tested the concept of selling made-to-order rice balls in Los Angeles by debuting three different products in 2017 at 626 Night Market, an annual festival showcasing food, concerts and artists.
Miyano said the festival served as a “great stepping stone” for their restaurant Jichan’s Onigiri-ya, which specializes in made-to-order rice balls. While the restaurant focused on community events to advance its brand later on, Miyano noted the importance of the exposure he and his friends received by participating at the festival.
“626 Night Market is a great place for aspiring food brands to test their food and see what kind of reaction they get from all of the foodies out there that visit,” Miyano said. “Any given night, we probably went through 300 to 500 tickets and orders. We went through close to a thousand rice balls a weekend.”
Named after the 626 area code in Los Angeles County, 626 Night Market opened its first location at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia in 2012 and added an event at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in 2018, according to the festival’s website.
This year, the fairgrounds will host the festival from Aug. 6 to Aug. 8, Aug. 20 to Aug. 22 and Sep. 24 to Sept. 26, the website adds.
For Brandon Choi, signing up to participate in the festival this year will help promote his restaurant in the vegan community. Choi added that Vegano, which offers patrons vegan popsicles, will benefit from the large number of attendees who felt “locked up” during the pandemic.
“It was a pretty well-known night market among the Asian community,” Choi said. “We applied to it because we’re selling the vegan product through local farmers markets right now. One of the vendors told us our product would be good at 626 Night Market.”
Choi, who is also a certified gelato chef, added that his restaurant initially had many Asian customers at local farmers markets and has since expanded to serve more people, noting that it does not matter “what race customers are.”
According to its website, 626 Night Market draws inspiration from Asian “open-air nighttime bazaars” and emphasizes bringing people together to eat and socialize.
Janeen Taplin and her business pineappleWHIPS were first approached by 626 Night Market in 2018 and have since been vendors at multiple festivals. This year, Taplin will serve her business’s Dole Whips to customers at the fairgrounds in early August and late September.
“Usually only those who have been to Hawaii and visited the Dole Plantation or Disney knew about Dole Whips,” Taplin said in an email. “Because of that pineappleWHIPS was born. I wanted EVERYONE to be able to try Dole Whips and experience a taste of aloha.”