In a sea of thousands of New York City restaurants, Japanese hot pot destination Hakata Tonton was in a class of its own prior to the pandemic. For 13 years, the welcoming West Village shop attracted throngs of diners over its warm service and unique devotion to highlighting tonsoku, or pig’s feet, in nearly every dish on the menu.
Like countless others, the restaurant could not survive the pandemic and permanently shut its doors last March. Now, exactly a year after the initial shutdown, the hitmakers at Hand Hospitality, a Koreatown-based restaurant group known for established hot spots like Take 31 and Her Name Is Han, are reviving Hakata Tonton this month as a delivery-only shop. And, yes: The restaurant’s former executive chef Koji Hagihara has been re-installed at the helm, and he’s overseeing a menu once again celebrating tonsoku.
As a delivery-only business, Hakata Tonton will offer both ready-to-eat hot pots and make-at-home meal kits. The menu rollout will be staggered with new items added every two weeks over the next month. For the first two weeks, starting March 16, the restaurant will only be offering Hakata Motsu hot pot, with a white or red soup broth. The centerpiece of the hot pot is the beef motsu, or intestine — another favorite Tonton ingredient — paired with cabbage, Chinese chives, sliced garlic, thin gyoza skins, and red chili pepper. The white soup broth is flavored with chicken and bonito flakes; the red is a spicy miso tonsoku collagen creation. Diners will have the option of ordering either as a cooked, ready-to-eat hotpot ($23 or $45 for one or two servings, respectively) or a meal kit complete with champon noodles and extra soup, priced at $82 for three to four servings.
On March 30, Tonton will add three grilled tonsoku appetizers to the menu: One preparation comes with mentaiko, a seafood topping made from cod roe; another with scallion ponzu sauce and yuzu kosho; and a third with cilantro and a spicy garlic sauce. In mid-April, the namesake Hakata Tonton hot pot debuts with the red soup broth in both meal kit and ready-to-eat form, overflowing with Berkshire pork belly, tonsoku, chicken thigh, pork dumplings, cabbage, chives, spinach, tofu, goji berry, jalapeños, and, for the meal kit only, udon noodles.
It was important for the team to center the restaurant’s revival around ingredients like tonsoku and motsu, which are not easy to find in a typical Japanese restaurant, Hand marketing director Ka Yee Chan says. The hospitality group is already juggling seven different restaurants through the pandemic, but the company wanted to preserve Tonton’s legacy in the NYC dining scene, especially in light of how devastating the closure had been for many of the restaurant’s longtime regulars and fans.
“It is the pandemic, so for us as a hospitality group this hasn’t been an easy time for sure,” Chan says. “But our mindset was really just, ‘We cannot let Tonton go.’ It is a very, very unique restaurant. It was very important to us to be able to continue its food and culture in New York City.”
When Hagihara heard Hand Hospitality was thinking about jumpstarting the restaurant again, he didn’t need any extra convincing to come back on board. His first thought was, “that’s my job,” Hagihara said through company director Keisuke Oku, who was translating. If Hakata Tonton was rising again, Hagihara wanted to be steering the ship.
Under Hand’s ownership, the restaurant has access to delivery and technology know-how, Chan says, allowing Hagihara to evolve the menu further as Tonton continues to grow. “For chef Koji, [Tonton’s revival] is not a stopping point,” Chan says. “He doesn’t just develop to a point and then he stops. He always wants a challenge and to make more new dishes. At Hand, we’re acting like an external power to push and support chef Koji and support Tonton.”
Eventually, as the pandemic lessens its grip on the city, Hakata Tonton will also reappear in brick-and-mortar form. The team has already secured a spot at 35 West 35th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, formerly the home of Korean barbecue restaurant Madangsui. They hope to re-open Hakata Tonton in that location in the fall this year.
For now, Manhattan diners can order Hakata Tonton’s meal kits and ready-to-eat dishes for delivery on third-party platforms including Grubhub, DoorDash, and Uber Eats starting March 16. Hand offers meal kit delivery, with 24-hour advance notice, through its own website to customers in Brooklyn, New Jersey, and Queens. Pre-orders for the meal kits are now live here.