Snow cones are a seasonal favorite of the Osaka-Ya pastry shop and market, but it’s taken more than snow cones to keep the shop in business for almost 100 years.
A vestige of Sacramento’s former Japantown, which sat in the area around L, N, Third and Fourth streets, Osaka-Ya still provides traditional Japanese sweets, hot food and other edibles near the corner of 10th and V streets downtown.
“My mom and dad took over this business in 1963,” said owner Linda Nakatani. “A friend gave them the recipe for the snow cone syrup, and they used a hand-crank snow cone machine to shave the ice.”
Her father installed a motor, and the snow cones have been a summer favorite at the business ever since.
On sale from April 1 until whenever the weather gets too cold, there is a line most days at the walk-up window at 2215 V St.
Twelve traditional shaved ice flavors are offered, including cherry, strawberry, orange and vanilla, and a Japanese version is offered as well, which includes azuki beans layered in the shaved ice. If customers want, they can have azuki beans and syrup flavors.
Another popular variation is to have the shaved ice atop a scoop of ice cream.
“We make all of our own syrups here,” Nakatani said. “We have lots of sizes. Some people say our large is as big as a baby’s head.”
Prices range from $2 to $4.25, with four sizes available.
Daryl Leisey, 30, said he has been eating shaved ice from Osaka-Ya since he was about 8 years old.
“I’ve probably been eating those for 20 years, but last year, I really started venturing out into the other things,” he said, standing in line Friday holding a pair of watermelons.
“I get the raspberry mochi for my niece and nephew, too,” he added. “They love the fruit-flavored ones.”
Mochi is a rice cake pastry made from pounded sticky rice and filled with either azuki beans, lima beans or the more-popular peanut butter.
“We mainly specialize in those types of pastries,” Nakatani said. “I enjoy the art of making it and doing it in different styles.”
Special mochi pastries are made for traditional Japanese celebrations, including the Lunar New Year.
Other specialized pastries, such as omanju – a type of cake – are made on Girls’ Day (March 3) and Boys’ Day (May 5), Nakatani said.
Hot foods are served on Fridays and Saturdays, and they consist of Japanese favorites such as spare ribs, Teriyaki rice bowls and oden, a complicated-to-make fish cake.
“We make oden for a lot of the elderly single people who live around here,” Nakatani said. “And we have sushi every day except Sunday and Monday, and we make it here from scratch.”
Betty Nagano, 94, said she has been frequenting the shop for decades, since before Nakatani’s family took over the business.
The omanju drew her and her daughter in on Friday.
“I used to come here before the war, when it was in Japantown,” Nagano said.
Originally from Wyoming, Nagano grew up in Sacramento and kept going to the business through its various moves, including the current spot, where it has been for 14 years.
Japantown was in an upheaval during World War II, when it was illegal for people of Japanese descent to own businesses in many parts of California, said William Burg, president of the Sacramento County Historical Society.
“They were kicked out,” he said. “Essentially, the properties came up for sale during World War II, and they were fire sale prices. At the same time as the Japanese were sent to internment camps, African Americans working in waterfront industries bought the properties.”
After the war, the area around 10th and V streets became a sort of substitute for the old Japantown.
In the mid-1950s, the West End was the densest part of the city, but the residents had to move when the Capitol Mall area was reconstructed. The building of Interstate 5 wiped out the remains of the area in the 1960s.
“The Latinos went to Alkali Flat, the African Americans went to Oak Park and the rest of the Japanese went to Southside,” Burg said.
Over the years, Osaka-Ya has managed to stay in business under the same name.
Nakatani said the recession has made business tough, but she hopes to be able to keep going and possibly hand it over to her sons one day.
Her boys, ages 9 and 11, come into the pastry shop and help out from time to time, but after about 10 minutes, they get bored, she said with a laugh.
Leisey, who still buys snow cones at the street-front window after 22 years, said there’s a reason he keeps coming back.
“They’re always friendly,” he said. “It’s a great place to come, and they’ve got a lot of things for a small place.”
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.