We had the good fortune of connecting with Michael Kitano and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Michael, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
My thought process behind starting my own business was finally pursuing my passion and to stop being afraid of failure. I have worked for a family member for majority of my life but it didn’t make me happy. I knew starting off in the restaurant industry was going to be competitive and hard but that’s what drove me. Being able to create something that people enjoy, bringing smiles to their faces even only for that moment is what inspires me and makes me extremely humble and happy. I only found this out recently while volunteering at a local church. The ability to not only help those in need but to bring the happiness back to their lives in such a dark period helped me decide on opening my own business. I’ve always cooked for others but nothing like this. I know there’s a high risk in starting a business but it’s the risk I’m willing to take.

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
After high school I went the traditional college route but didn’t find any joy. Felt as if I was just going through the motions and what “society” wanted. I’ve always had an interest in food; had family members who operated restaurants and worked in professional kitchens so I decided to give culinary school a try. In my first year, I was made sous-chef of the school kitchen and was voted “most creative” by my peers. After graduating I bounced around from restaurant to restaurant until I found my groove at a French restaurant. This is where my real training started. The head chef, who is Filipino, was a no nonsense chef but understanding and always teaching us methods. I was also trained by a elderly French saucier who spoke no English but taught by technique. To this day, I’m a master of sauces because of him and won the 2018 Los Angeles Sauce Off beating two local restaurants. After a few years being truly French trained, I worked at a few American restaurants but slowly started getting burnt out.

Over the past few years I was recruited to volunteer at a local church where I still volunteer at to this day. I enjoy doing this as I enjoy teaching methods and techniques just like my master chef taught me. Makes me happy serving happiness on a plate.

Because of the pandemic and my experiences at the church, I decided to launch my own brand. I’ve always wanted to open my own place but was weary of the market. But because of the shutdown, I was able to open and provide meals to local families. I named it “Hapa Meals” as a spin off of “Happy Meals” based off my daughters being “hapa”; which means “half”. I’m Japanese and my wife is Caucasian which makes my daughters half Japanese and half white.

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I’m a big craft beer fan, visiting all kinds of breweries always looking for that uniqueness like Ube beer, jalepeno beer, or mai tai beer. I’m not really into the Michelin star restaurants or the hootsy-tootsy places. I could go to a revolving sushi place and be happy. But mainly would be pleased and happy just staying at home cooking and showing off my skills. I do create dishes now and then and have a friend taste test. It reminds me of my culinary school days where an idea would pop up in my head, create the dish, then serve it to my group of friends to get their opinions. Some were good and some were really not but with the feedback, I could make it great.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My shoutout would have to be my family, friends at the church, and friends who have stuck by my side. But more importantly would be my wife and two daughters. My wife especially for pushing me to open my own business and rooting for my success. My two daughters for giving me the inspiration to create dishes they enjoy eating.

Website: www.hapameals.com

Instagram: @hapa_meals

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HapaMeals1

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMb4ghiqd9smW0cK30DdZog

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutLA is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.