Daruma is Here for Your Convenience

This diminutive konbini is the brainchild of Kiki and Sen Chef/Entrepreneur Hideki Harada.
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A selection of Japanese snacks and pantry staples available at Daruma.

Photograph by Hatsue

Know this before heading into Daruma: The facility is tiny—830 square feet—and the market itself is just barely bigger than a kitchen pantry. A sign on the door limits occupancy to five people. This compact design isn’t by accident. Styled as a konbini—corner grocery stores essential to everyday life in Japan—the minimalist decor is both fun and functional.

Owner Hideki Harada (who also runs College Hill’s Kiki and Sen in Findlay Market) knows a thing or two about selling Cincinnatians Japanese food, and he keeps things simple for a reason.

“I went with a minimalist space to be able to keep things looking clean,” he explains. “The size is small as well, which can make things easier to fill and help keep the place looking fuller.”

Owner Hideki Harada showing off Daruma’s onigiri.

Photograph by Hatsue

What it lacks in square footage, Daruma makes up for in stock. The light wood shelves are lined with all manner of staples like Kewpie mayo, mirin, sake, soy sauce, noodles, seaweed, and rice. Shoppers can also pick up a refreshing beverage (alcoholic or non) from one of two coolers, scan and pay with a card, and be back on the street in mere minutes.

“I’m hoping to reach the city dweller who needs some Japanese staples as well as the general busy businessperson who just wants to grab a quick snack,” Harada says.

Check out Daruma’s onigiri, a konbini standard in Japan. The crispy nori-wrapped rice balls come with pork belly, pickled plum, tuna mayo, or ham and cheese.

Photograph by Hatsue

There’s also a sizable kitchen tucked past a decorative curtain, where fresh sushi and onigiri (rice balls) are made fresh for shoppers in need of a quick lunch or grab-and-go snack. The store also offers a hot water dispenser for dash-in diners who pick up cup noodles. And, as Daruma gets going, Harada has plans to grow the fresh-made offerings. “We hope to expand the offerings through the warmer months ahead,” he adds.

With its clean aesthetic and eclectic selection, Daruma’s interior seems miles away from the bustle of Court Street just outside, which, as Harada says, was kind of the idea. “I wanted to share something that was a part of daily life in Japan,” he says.

Daruma, 31 E. Court St., downtown, @darumacincy 

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