Welcome to the LA Tofu Festival web site, August 12th - 13th, 2006, in Downtown LA!
History of the Tofu Festival
For 15 years the Little Tokyo Service Center (LTSC) had a Community Service Award Fundraising Dinner. Over the years, there was a proliferation of other community service award dinners, and people began complaining. So the LTSC Board wanted to change to something new, fun, and inexpensive for supporters to attend yet still be able to raise money from new sources- not just the same groups.
In 1995, LTSC Board members Judy Nishimoto, Barbara Miyamoto and Bill Watanabe brainstormed and came up with a food festival, later “morphing” into a Tofu Festival. It sounded fun, healthy, ethnic, and very "LA".
Being skeptical and cautious, the LTSC Board conducted a survey to see what kind of reaction “Tofu” got. One third of those canvassed laughed, thought it was a terrific idea and loved tofu. One third thought it was a terrible idea (but they disliked tofu), and one third was neutral or open to the idea.
Soon after, the LA Times ran an article about the health benefits of soy and tofu. The LA Times extensively quoted a UCLA researcher who touted the benefits of these products; the article concluded that people should eat more soy foods.
Although the LA Times article almost sold the LTSC board on the Festival idea, the real breakthrough came when a board member mentioned her family friendship with Tofu manufacturer Hinoichi. Pioneer Mr. Yamauchi, founded Hinoichi Tofu, one of the first large-scale tofu producing companies in America. Mr. Yamauchi had a reputation of being very community-minded. When he came out in support of the Tofu Festival idea, LTSC was thrilled.
Prior to this, House Foods America bought Hinoichi still keeping former owner Yamauchi a major influential business partner. House foods transferred Mr. Shigeru Shirasaka from Japan to be the General Manager of the American operation. Taking a bold step in his new position, Mr. Shirasaka, inspired by Mr. Yamauchi’s enthusiasm, agreed to be the festival’s first title sponsor and to underwrite the festival at $20,000! For the first time anywhere in the world, a Tofu Festival was born!
LTSC social worker, Ayumi Kawata, became the first festival coordinator. Ms. Kawata worked hard developing the Tofu Festival, which joined the Nisei Week Festival and as was co-produced by the JACCC.
On August 10, 1996 with 30 food, health info, and craft booths on the JACCC courtyard, Kawata wondered if anyone would show up. It was gratifying to see 8,000 people turn out to consume 25,000 tofu dishes. And the LTSC netted about the same average as a service award dinner.
By 1999, Margaret Endo replaced Ayumi Kawata, and the festival spilled onto San Pedro Street to accommodate the growing crafts faire. In 2000, Joyce Shimazu became the first fulltime festival coordinator. The crowds continued to swell to 20,000.
In 2002, Debra Fong became the festival coordinator. With her hard work, marketing and management expertise, the festival became a smooth, efficient, logistic success. Audiences continued to grow.
In 2003, the event underwent major changes to take the festival into the evening and bring in well-known artists for two nighttime concerts featuring Hiroshima and Tierra. This was the second time that the Tofu Festival ventured away from the Nisei Week; this time festival grounds expanded from a parking lot (festival lot) onto San Pedro street and across the way onto the JACCC plaza for the entertainment stages. This was also the first year that the festival included beer, wine and sake.
2003 marked many firsts including a new marketing approach using the "Fresh Naked Tofu" slogan (still a crowd favorite to this day). Other firsts included autograph signing sessions by Iron Chef Morimoto, TV coverage on the Food Network's "Top 5: Amazing Celebrations" and Asian foods - "It's not just tofu anymore." All these changes made for the most successful fundraising festival to date in Tofu Festival history.
In 2004, the sale of alcohol was reconsidered and the festival took a different direction. This was to be a daytime family-friendly event with "Tofu Ninja" as the mascot. This festival included a second stage featuring "Up and Coming Asian Artists" and allowed for many young artists to display their talents. Huell Howser, the Celebrity Chairperson, addressed the crowd and sampled delicious tofu and soy dishes. The Food Network's "Unwrapped" taped for the episode "Protein Power."
In 2005, the Tofu Festival rejoined Nisei Week festivities. Multiple events took place simultaneously drawing record-breaking crowds. 2005’s festival theme was "Tofuzilla: When Giant Tofu Takes Over Little Tokyo." In addition to all the wonderful tofu and soy dishes, the festival included " A Taste of Japan". The Food Network's "BBQ with Bobby Flay" captured the event as well as the Travel Channel's "Taste of America." Host Mark DeCarlo roused the crowds during the ever-popular Tofu Eating Contest. Saturday evening, saxophonist, Gerald Albright, provided easy listening for his concert under the stars. On Sunday, Ozomatli played to a standing room only crowd with a warm introduction from Mayor Antonio Villaragosa. 2005 brought out the largest recorded crowd in festival history of approximately 25,000.
2006 brought a new coordinator to the Festival. Planning for more upscale, gourmet palates and tempting features for hungry returning regulars.
There was a new Hi Tech Celebrity Chef Cooking Stage with robotic cameras and plasma screens. The 2006 LA Tofu Festival proudly presented: "Iron Chef America" Morimoto, PBS "Let's Get Cooking" Chef and cookbook author Tommy Tang, from "Hell’s Kitchen", Chef Scott Liebfried, from "Top Chef", Candice Kumai, "Next Food Network Star" finalist, Chef Reggie Southerland, chef and Real Foods Daily cookbook author, Ann Gentry, and Executive Chef Troy Thompson from Iron Chef America.
2006’s Festival brought even more excitement to Little Tokyo. Partnering with TokyoPop, the 2006 Festival featured the sensational Japanese Manga and Anime Initial D! Initial D is the story of a tofu delivery boy who becomes a famous drift racer. That’s why when we say “Initial D Delivers Tofu to Little Tokyo!” We really mean it!
So we can continue to please you, tell us what you like about the Tofu Festival- fill out our 2007 survey form at the Little Tokyo Service Center Information Booth.