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For Chako, Great Food Makes a Great Community

Hisako “Chako” Okawa’s dark oval eyes focus as her fingers quickly trickle over the dish she’s preparing to serve. Her short slender figure swirls effortlessly around the kitchen. A final touch. She places the plates on a tray and scoops it off to the back of her bakery cafe to the delight of her customers.

“Great food creates great community,” Chako said. This is a value that she’s been living out at her Mainstrasse Village eatery – her namesake – Chako Bakery Cafe.

“I believe in using hand-made and natural baking processes with unique Japanese ingredients and fresh seasonal produce from local farmers,” she said. “It’s all served with the Japanese hospitality concept of Omotenashi.”

According to JapanToday.com, "Omotenashi" is hard to define, but the Japanese use it to describe what they believe is their unique approach to hospitality, involving the subjugation of self in service to a guest.

Chako loves to see people enjoying her food. 

“That’s the best part,” she said. “That’s why I do what I do. I want people to enjoy what they eat, but also be healthy when they eat. I like to see people smile and say: ‘That was good.’ Yeah, that’s what I like to hear.”

That phrase is mentioned a lot by Mary Powers. Powers frequents the bakery cafe often. 

“I love it,” she said. “The (baked goods) are the exact sweetness you need. They’re not overwhelming. They’re just perfect.”

Powers said she orders all her birthday and special occasion cakes from Chako. 

“She’s so detailed,” Powers said. “She’s the best. My whole family loves her style and the taste is so delicious. She’s good and has a lot of experience.”

After a 35-year nursing career, Chako mastered culinary skills at Le Cordon Bleu and Il Pleut Sur. Then, she worked and polished her skills at Premier Saint-Germain and Jotto. In 2015, Chako came to the United States. 

Currently, Chako delivers her bakery items to several locations such as the Covington Farmer’s Market, Sakura Market, and other events. She also teaches about the importance of preparing nutritious foods and connecting with the community. In 2017, Chako opened her bakery cafe.

Chako Bakery Cafe, 611 Main St., specializes in breads and baked goods, as well as Japanese cuisine. 

Her next goal is to write and publish a family cook book.

“I want this to be something that will inspire families to cook together,” she said. “Cooking is something very enjoyable and it’s fund to do with kids.”

Written by Melissa Reinert, RCN contributor