June 30, 2020
A shelter for the community
By Paul McInnes
The Seibu Ikebukuro Line isn’t really known for being a cultural hotspot. Perhaps Ekoda is the most recognized stop on the line with its college town atmosphere, shambolic backstreets, glorious Israeli joint Shamaim and Coconuts Disk record store. Only two stops from Ikebukuro, however, is the sleepy wee town of Higashi-Nagasaki. It’s a small, bustling area with local eateries, some cozy izakaya (Japanese bar) and the odd, quirky vintage shop. From April of this year though, Higashi Nagasaki plays host to one of the most exciting coffee store experiments in Tokyo. Mia Mia (pronounced maya maya), run by husband and wife team Vaughan and Rie Allison, feels like it could be the start of something new, the ignition of a fresh community space and one which will, surely, be a hub and focal point for the locals and visitors alike for years to come.
Vaughan, as he’s known in the arts scene in Japan’s capital, is a man of many trades. A coffee expert, writer, editor, lecturer, music promoter, model and all round Renaissance man, he’s a polymath with a mission. Mia Mia is the result of years of familiarizing himself with Tokyo’s burgeoning third-wave coffee scene with the dream of, one day, opening his own store with his wife Rie, a successful architect who has been responsible for a plethora of projects in Japan and overseas. Mia Mia, only one minute from Higashi-Nagasaki Station, sits on a corner location across from a car park which can be used for small events. The store’s interior (designed by Rie) is warm and inviting and looks more like a Tomigaya or Kichijoji destination than a space nestled in a banlieue of Ikebukuro. With coffee hand chosen by Vaughan, the emphasis is on quality with an idiosyncratic fusion of Australian, Scandanavian and Japanese products from coffee brands including Padre from Melbourne, Norway’s superstar label Fuglen and Horizon Labo from 17-year-old wunderkind Hibiki Iwano.
In Wadawurrung (an indigenous Australian language) Mia Mia means ‘shelter’ and it’s clear that the Higashi-Nagasaki location is becoming known as a place for everybody, a resting place and center for coming together and meeting new friends and sharing ideas and passions.
The store also hosts Australian chocolate and fashion accessories as well as an awesome record player, a collection of vinyl to peruse and old issues of Monocle magazine lying around for customers to squirrel over while enjoying the bohemian and welcoming vibes. Rie and Vaughan are genial hosts and have already made a significant impact in the local community. Striking up relationships with neighbors and local businesses was one of the main missions of the project itself. It’s a community project, at heart, with Mia Mia’s doors always open to coffee aficionados, the local OAPs, students, office workers and people with disabilities. Vaughan plays the role of probenleiter (a German word meaning leader or guide) effortlessly answering queries, joking with regulars and welcoming first-time customers with grace, humor and genuine affection.
In Wadawurrung (an indigenous Australian language) Mia Mia means “shelter” and it’s clear that the Higashi-Nagasaki location is becoming known as a place for everybody, a resting place and center for coming together and meeting new friends and sharing ideas and passions. Vaughan and Rie are planning small art exhibits and social events and, as the cafe also functions as a bar (with a curated selection of natural wines and craft beer from up-and-coming Ikebukuro craft beer space Two Fingers), it’s easy to see Mia Mia transforming itself into a regular, vibrant space which may well in the long run shift the balance and focus away from the nearby hipster hangouts of Nakano, Koenji and Kichijoji.
Mia Mia also serves sourdough bread and other edible goodies from vaunted Norwegian bakery Vaner, whose Yanaka location has been a huge hit since opening a few years ago. The sourdough has been such a triumph with Higashi-Nagasaki locals that customers are lining up at 8am to get their hands on it.
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For all that Mia Mia has made a huge impact since opening on April 2, it’s not been easy opening a new store and project in the middle of a pandemic. For now, Mia Mia’s opening hours are 8am – 7pm with just a take out menu in place. Customers are advised to distance themselves from others and the staff are particular about hygiene and cleanliness — more so than usual.
“Due to the virus, we weren’t able to hold our big opening party that we had been planning for months — we actually had renowned jazz musician TOKU booked to entertain, and some of the biggest names in the coffee industry in Japan ready for guest barista,” says Vaughan in a recent interview with Metropolis.
“Also, since opening we haven’t had too many customers visit us from outside the area. Which is of course all very disappointing. But after a few weeks since opening Mia Mia, we’ve soon realized that it’s also meant that we’ve really been able to focus on the local community, and building genuine friendships with our locals. It’s already got to the stage where I wouldn’t call them customers anymore (even though there’s excellent customer service still). We’re on first name/nickname basis with most of our locals and we’re making each other that little bit happier during this crazy time. We look forward to hosting a really big party when the time is right, and when it is, the party will also be attended by all of our local friends/customers. Something we wouldn’t have been able to experience otherwise.”
A peek at the Mia Mia website and you’ll notice the “Hello!! Higashi Nagasaki” section which introduces other stores in the area. With future collaborations with other shops from the area in the works and an authentic and harmonious climate created by Vaughan and Rie, Mia Mia is very much the social spark that Higashi-Nagasaki needs.
4-10-1 Nagasaki, Toshima-ku