We often use the word “community” when talking about craft beer. While what’s in the glass is of course hugely important to us, there is nothing more important than the people it brings together. As delicious as a beer may be alone, the greatest pleasure comes from the company one enjoys it with.
Recently, Kyoto Brewing lost a friend, and someone who brought people together for such times, becoming a hugely important to his local community.
Many craft beer fans in Saitama will no doubt be familiar with Primordial in Minami-Urawa. Opening in 2016, Primordial opened about a year after Kyoto Brewing started, and at first stood out for its quality. Owner Kenta Fujii had chosen a small spot, just the right size for one person to largely operate alone, and had executed his plan in depth. Impressions started with the appearance of the shop, with the sharp design of the logo, the approachability of the entrance, and right down to the layout and the lighting. His menu was kept intentionally simple, with 5 carefully selected beers, coffee selected from Fujii-san’s favourite roaster, Glitch, and a delicious food menu that he could manage himself, all while ensuring that customers wouldn’t be waiting too long for their next order.
Though Primordial’s quality was beyond question, what was even more important to him was the community that Primordial created. While he could have easily chosen somewhere around the station with plenty of foot traffic, he specifically selected somewhere in a largely residential but fairly sparsely populated area on the quieter side of the station. Within a year of opening, however, his own group of regulars had been created, and this only grew. People could rock up in a group but, more often than not, they would show up on their own, looking forward to the conversation enjoyed over a coffee or a beer that would no doubt await them, either from the other regulars who they had come to know, or for the easy engagement with Fujii-san himself.
Two years ago, we started sharing our booth with Primordial at Keyaki Beer Festival. Despite knowing that Fujii-san tended to operate Primordial on his own, each day he would show up with an army of staff to man his booth. They weren’t his employees, however. Fujii-san’s regulars loved their local to the point that they were willing to sacrifice their precious days off to work for him, and while tiring, they had immense fun in doing so. After all, they were spending their days with their friends, all of who they had got to know at their local social gathering centre, Primordial.
While the average Keyaki festival-goer wasn’t initially familiar on their first event turnout, the reputation of Primordial grew and grew, and each Keyaki saw Primordial’s sales increase each time as people got hooked on his roast beef and special mashed potato, or his Keyaki special kamayaki-udon.
Last year, Fujii-san was diagnosed with cancer, and stage 4 at that. Needing to go in to hospital for treatment on a regular basis, Primordial looked as though it would need to close. Step in Primordial’s “super staff”. If Fujii-san wasn’t in a place to open his shop on his own, his plucky gang of volunteers were there to make sure that his local community still had its central meeting point. While Primordial couldn’t maintain its regular opening hours, the regulars rotated shifts while handling their regular day jobs and other commitments. Primordial continued and the community that Fujii-san had created remained just as tight throughout.
(PRIMORDIAL's regular customers/volunteer "super staff")
Despite his illness, Fujii-san was determined to see it through last year’s Autumn Keyaki. With the help once again of his friends, Primordial did even better than they had in the busier Spring festival. While he was exhausted, Fujii-san said at the end of the event that he looked forward to this year’s Spring Keyaki, by which time he targeted an at least partial recovery.
Keyaki this year was unfortunately cancelled due to corona. While it was a big disappointment to Fujii-san, his regulars, and we at KBC alike, we made plans for a tap takeover event at Primordial on a separate date instead. With the situation of corona at the time worsening, however, this too had to be postponed.
While biding our time, and despite an extraordinarily courageous battle, Fujii-san finally succumbed to the cancer last month. Right through to the last week before his passing, he continued to be involved with the running of his beloved Primordial.
While Fujii-san wasn’t able to be there in person himself, his volunteers organised a last opening of Primordial, with a Kyoto Brewing tap takeover and Fujii-san’s ever-popular roast beef and mashed potato on sale, amongst other menu favourites. Due to corona, space inside the bar was reservation only, for 3 time slots, all of which were booked out within 1 day of becoming available. All other regulars and Primordial fans visited for takeaway, bringing the atmosphere out onto the street in front, making a large but socially distanced party that served as a fitting finale that Fujii-san would have been delighted to have seen. With the climax of Primordial, the announcement was made that Fujii-san’s good friend Ozaki-san would continue offering a place for his community in the same location under a new name, with the target opening being next month (November 2020). Despite ordering double, the last keg kicked just before closing time. While the passing of Fujii-san, merely in his 30s, was tragic, the event succeeded in showing that the connections he has created will undoubtedly continue, leaving a legacy in his perfect example of how to give craft beer its right place, and how to truly create a community hub.