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Shota Nakajima Is Opening a Chaotic Japanese Detroit-Style Pizza Shop in Capitol Hill

The celebrity chef is taking over Redhook Brewlab’s kitchen to serve a menu of pizza and umami-packed brewery snacks

Several square Detroit-style pizzas laid out on a table with some salads, sandwiches, and fried items.
Kobō is serving Japanese-influenced Detroit-style pizzas and drinking snacks.
Shota Nakajima

Celebrity chef Shota Nakajima has been rumored to be involved with a lot of different restaurants this year — including a teriyaki restaurant he mysteriously backed out of in Cle Elum — but Nakajima’s newest project is perhaps his most surprising yet: He’s opening a Detroit-style pizza restaurant.

Kōbo, which means yeast in Japanese, will launch on September 10 at Capitol Hill’s Redhook Brewlab, next door to Nakajima’s fried chicken restaurant, Taku. It will serve Nakajima’s Japanese-influenced version of Detroit-style pizza as well as umami-heavy brewery snacks.

At first glance, Nakajima, a Japanese-trained chef, seems to have few ties to Kōbo’s signature Midwestern dish. But he explains that Detroit-style pizza (with its crispy cheese crust and soft interior), reminds him of the kind of starchy street food (okonomiyaki, a savory cabbage pancake) that he enjoyed while training to be a chef in Osaka, Japan, a carb-obsessed city where people order sides of rice with their yakisoba and ramen.

A rectangular pizza topped with cilantro, chopped fried chicken, sliced red onions, and hot sauce.
The Hot Neighbor is a chaotic creation topped with chopped Taku fried chicken, cilantro, and koji hot sauce.
Shot Nakajima
A rectangular pizza topped with chopped meat, shredded cabbage, pickled onions, and scallions.
The Dodger is made with braised beef, cheddar, and cabbage, among other ingredients, and topped with Kewpie mayonnaise.
Shota Nakajima

Nakajima says taking over the kitchen at Redhook Brewlab is part of a larger effort to connect businesses and build a closer community in the blocks surrounding Taku. “It’s a community vibe,” Nakajima says. “It almost feels like food court when you walk in.”

Now with a larger space and kitchen, Nakajima says he’ll be able to collaborate more with local businesses — and with celebrity chefs from around the country who want to work with him on pop-ups or who need a space for book-signings and other publicity events. “It was kind of the perfect first step to working together with the block,” Nakajima says.

At Kōbo, Nakajima will serve a pizza dough with a few twists that make the dish a little more Japanese, and a little more Shota. For example, Nakajima adds milk, buttermilk, and clarified butter to the dough to give it the scent and sweetness of Japanese milk bread. He also mixes some mochiko (the rice flour used to make mochi) with the wheat flour to give the finished product a bit more springiness, a technique that he says is used in some Japanese pizza shops.

The pizzas range from classic flavors like The Flat-Earther, with mozzarella, red sauce, and basil, to truly chaotic creations like The Hot Neighbor, topped with chopped Taku fried chicken, jack cheese, koji hot sauce, and cilantro (a good example of the trend of “chaos cooking,” a kind of aggressive, weird, but thoughtful approach to fusion that’s sweeping the American restaurant scene this fall). Like okonomiyaki, a couple of the pizzas are topped with shredded cabbage, and The Dodger (named after Nakajima’s dog), is even served with Kewpie mayonnaise, a popular condiment for starchy Japanese street food.

Beyond pizzas, Kōbo will serve some cheffed-up bar snacks like corn dog nugs made with what Nakajima describes as a juicier Japanese version of Lit’l Smokies, tater tots served with chili jam ketchup, deep-fried broccoli with sweet chili sauce, and pretzel bites with miso beer cheese.

Originally, when Nakajima was considering taking over Redhook Brewlab’s kitchen (the brewery needed help running its kitchen, and he wanted to expand in the neighborhood), he was planning on staying closer to his Japanese roots by serving okonomiyaki. But after spending some time at the brewery and getting to know the regulars, he realized American comfort food dishes (with some umami-bolstering touches) would be an easier sell.

Redhook Brewlab is also now serving a beer Nakajima developed with the brewery — a red rice gose made with strawberry, raspberry, and two steps of koji fermentation (the mold used to make sake) along with a regular beer yeast fermentation, for extra umami and a longer, balanced aftertaste.

Kobō is located at 714 East Pike Street. Opening hours will be 5 p.m. to 9:30 pm, Wednesday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

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