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Chris Bonomo and Greg Dunmore on Bringing Amazing Ingredients to the U.S.

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About this episode

This week, we dive deep into the world of Japanese culinary treasures with Chris Bonomo and Greg Dunmore, the founders of The Japanese Pantry. Chris and Greg share incredible stories about the people behind their extraordinary soy sauces, miso, katsuobushi, rice vinegar, and more.

In this episode, we explore the origin of The Japanese Pantry and how Chris and Greg embarked on their journey to bring these amazing ingredients to the United States. Chris and Greg's passion for these products and their travels through Japan are evident as they detail the nuances and labor of love behind each product. 

Join us for an episode filled with insights into the world of Japanese ingredients, the dedication of the producers, and the mission of The Japanese Pantry to introduce these exceptional products to American home cooks and professional chefs. Whether you're a culinary enthusiast or a restaurant owner, you'll be inspired by the stories and flavors behind each ingredient.

Where to find Chris Bonomo:

Where to find Greg Dunmore:

Where to find host Josh Sharkey:

What We Cover

(2:43) How The Japanese Pantry started

(7:02) Tahini and black sesame paste

(11:53) What is koji?

(15:33) Soy Sauce and kioke barrels

(26:24) Katsuobushi, not bonito flakes

(32:19) The different types of konbu

(35:38) The magic of Shiitake 

(40:59) What is real rice vinegar?

(45:20) Japanese brown Sugar and spices


Josh Sharkey [00:00:00]: 

Welcome to The meez Podcast. I'm your host, Josh Sharkey, the founder and CEO of meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. On the show, I'll be interviewing world-class entrepreneurs in the food space that are shifting the paradigm of how we innovate and operate in our industry. Thanks for listening, and I hope you enjoy the show.


My guests today are Chris Bonomo and Greg Dunmore, founders of The Japanese Pantry, a purveyor of some of the most incredible Japanese products available in the US. I've been buying from the Japanese pantry for over five years now, having first learned about them for this project I was working on with a chef friend where we were using this liquid Shio Koji that's only available through the Japanese Pantry. Since then, I've become pretty obsessed with all their products, and it's not only the quality, i.e. some like the best soy sauces and miso and katsuobushi, nori, rice vinegar, and more.


But also these amazing stories and people behind the products that Chris and Greg tell so well. Their passion is really obvious when you hear them speak about the producers and all their travels through Japan. I think everyone today will learn a lot about the nuance and the depth and the labor love behind these products.


And for me, this is part of what makes Japanese cuisine so special. A dish can be so simple with just like a handful of ingredients, but behind each one of those ingredients can be this treasure trove of inspiring stories. So we're going to talk about a lot of these products today and dig pretty deep. And we'll also talk about the origin behind how Chris and Greg started the company and a bunch more. So I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Welcome to the podcast. 

Chris Bonomo [00:01:52]: 

Cool. Right on. Excited. 

Greg Dunmore [00:01:52]: 

Thank you. We're so excited. Thank you so much. 

Yeah, I'm super stoked to have you both here and honestly like a real nice surprise to have you here, Greg because we haven't met before. I've talked to Chris a bunch of times, but we haven't met, so I know a bit about the backstory. And honestly today, if it's cool with you guys, I kind of just want to geek out on all the products because there's so many stories. 

Chris Bonomo [00:02:06]: 

Whatever you want to do. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:08]: 

I have most of them at home, which, you know, like as I was just saying, having a two year old, a four year old and, and a wife that doesn't eat everything. Mostly they're for me, but I also gift them a lot to my friends, you know, just like a gift card to The Japanese Pantry. So let's do the obligatory “What is The Japanese Pantry?" and a little about your background as a chef and how you guys met obviously. Because Chris, you were regular at Greg's restaurant, which typically means you guys would open a restaurant together. That didn't happen. 

Chris Bonomo [00:02:41]: 

Thank the lord. 

Josh Sharkey [00:02:43]: 

You went another route? So there's some intelligence in the room here, but yeah, a little bit about your backgrounds and about Japanese Pantry and then we're just going to kind of geek out for a bit on the products because there's a bunch I want to learn and that I'm sure that our audience of chefs and restaurant owners will love. And then we kind of like to see where it goes. Great. So I'll throw it over to you guys. Chris, if you want to start. 

Chris Bonomo [00:02:58]

Greg and I started the Japanese pantry a little over seven years ago now. The genesis of the story really is actually, I'm going to throw it back over to you, Greg, because you and Takehiro are really the start of this whole thing. You want to say, talk about how that started. 

Greg Dunmore [00:03:16]: 

Sure. Yeah. When I had my restaurant, I was asked by the Japanese government to pair up with a Japanese producer, and they gave you a list of these producers and one of them was Wadaman Sesame, and there was a black sesame paste. And I was like, oh, that's cool. And by that time I was a chef too, like hardheaded, where I'm like, if I'm going to make black sesame paste, I'll do it myself with my own seeds that I have in my kitchen.


Low and behold, this stuff blew my mind. Anyways, the deal was I had to use it for a week and like to put Wadaman Sesame on there and I eat it on a dish. Takehiro came in and ate. He had a great meal. We talked, we kind of hit it off and he asked me, he invited me to come to Japan to see the factory, and I did, and I had a wonderful time with him and saw his factory, went to dinner with him, and then he asked, would you import our products?


And I entertained the idea. I was like, oh, well maybe on the side, So, you know, owning a restaurant is kind of hard. So a little bit on the back burner, but Chris was sitting in front of me one night eating the skewers and he had just gotten back from Japan and we were just talking, he was like, I just fill up my suitcase with a bunch of stuff cause I can't get the stuff here.


And I was like, so interesting. I've been thinking about doing this, blah, blah, blah. A week later he called me, he was like, Hey, you want to go into business together? Yeah. Then literally like a week later after that, I got a call from a restaurant group in Japan that had 200 restaurants of the same name as my restaurant.


Well, they wanted to come to the United States and make San Francisco the first place they dropped. So they saw my restaurant, and they said, Hey, we want to buy your restaurant. And I hung up on them and they called back and said, we want to buy your whole name and concept. And at that point, I wasn't really making any money. I was paying my staff and my vendors, but not really myself that well. 

Josh Sharkey [00:04:45]: 

Wait, what? You were a restaurant that wasn't making money. Be serious. 

Greg Dunmore [00:04:45]: 

It's crazy, right? Anomaly. That's it, man. Chris and I, after that, we ran with it. We jumped on a plane in December of 2015 and went to Japan. Tried to go back to that Japanese government agency and they say, Hey, we want to do this. And they looked at us and said, come back when you're a real business. And we since don't really see them too often anymore. And then we went out and did it and started, I think our first sales were in the summer, like May or June of the next year 2016. That's where it started. I feel like that's really what we started when we got that first sale. Yeah. The rest is history. 

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