Mochi Doughnuts Everywhere—Now at 7-Eleven Stores This Month
Watanabe Bakery brings matcha mochi doughnuts to the chain stores for a November pop-up, while demand grows for these chewy treats.
Photo: Courtesy of 7-Eleven Hawai‘i
It’s past 6:30 p.m. on Halloween and Chris Watanabe, the second-generation owner of Watanabe Bakery on Beretania Street, is back in the kitchen. MoDo Hawai‘i, the bakery’s specialty shop, branded Mitsuwa Marketplace in the International Market Place, is running out of mochi doughnuts.
“I guess because it’s Halloween,” says the 26-year-old. “It’s just really busy.”
Watanabe started selling mochi doughnuts—similar to the popular pon de ring doughnuts found at Japan’s Mister Donut—this summer at the bakery. He would make a tray each of four flavors—kurogoma (black sesame), matcha, chocolate and a plain doughnut with a glaze made from Big Island honey—and sell out. Demand grew—and hasn't stopped. Today, the little bakery churns out more than 2,000 doughnuts a day, supplying to its two Watanabe locations and MoDo in Waikīkī. And workers are still making each doughnut by hand.
Starting today, the bakery is selling matcha-flavored mochi doughnuts at 7-Eleven Hawai‘i stores on O‘ahu in a pop-up through the month of November. The doughnuts, priced at $2.49 each, are the result of a collaboration between the Japanese bakery and Ito En Hawaiʻi, which supplies the green-tea powder used in these doughnuts.
The difference between these matcha doughnuts and the ones the bakery already makes? The ones at 7-Eleven have matcha powder added to the dough and in the glaze. (The bakery’s version folds green tea powder into Swedish white chocolate to make a glaze.)
Matcha mochi doughnuts from out of the ovens at Watanabe Bakery.
Photo: Couresty of Watanabe Bakery
Seeing mochi doughnuts in this many convenience stores on O‘ahu is a step toward Watanabe’s ultimate goal of this creation becoming a staple in the doughnut lineup, alongside yeast and cake.
Mochi doughnuts were already popularized by Liliha Bakery. And Dukes Lane Market & Eatery launched its version earlier this year.
Watanabe got the idea of mochi doughnuts when he was living in Tokyo three years ago. One of his fondest memories of the year he spent there was sitting in a coffee shop eating chewy mochi doughnuts.
“It was that little piece of happiness I wanted to bring back to Hawai‘i,” he says. “I thought, ʻThis is amazing. The world needs to have this.’”
When he returned to O‘ahu, he worked for his father’s bakery, focusing on expanding its wholesale reach for Watanabe’s iconic Japanese-style white bread. He slowly added new pastries to the lineup, too, including Choco Coronets (soft-baked kasha bread filled with chocolate ganache and whipped cream, dipped in Swedish dark chocolate) and peanut butter an pan (Japanese sweet roll). He was still perfecting his mochi doughnuts when Liliha Bakery launched its version. Watanabe was bummed—but not deterred. Through a friend, he reached out to Liliha’s owner, Peter Kim, to see if it would be OK for him to develop his own style of mochi doughnuts.
“I believe in bachi,” Watanabe says, laughing. “Peter said he welcomes the competition. That was really nice of him. I actually hold him in high regard.”
Watanabe purchased the bakery with partners Kenny Chen, Daniel Furumura, David Mao, Brent Morita and Mychael Allgood from his father earlier this year. While Liliha Bakery focused on the combination of mochi and poi for its doughnuts, Watanabe worked on modifying his mochi flour mix and creating unique flavored glazes. Getting the texture right was his first priority, and it took him weeks.
“I had to make a recipe based off of the memories and feelings I had,” he says. “Now, the doughnuts are at the point where I get the same feeling and happiness I did when I was eating it in Japan.”
Watanabe’s favorite, hands down, is the kurogoma, and he hates to admit that he snacks on these a lot. “I’m 20 percent mochi doughnut right now,” he says, laughing.