Tatsu Aikawa is just the kind of fellow that makes Austin, TX what it is. He mashes up his love of Japanese culture and cuisine with his Texas upbringing to create some of the state's most acclaimed restaurants. He's been recognized by GQ, the James Beard Foundation, Bon Appetit and all kinds of others. His famous Ramen Tatsu-Ya pretty much always has a line around the block. His Disney World meets tiki bar Tiki Tatsu-Ya (our favorite) is one of the hardest reservations to get in town for good reason. One step into this place will blow your mind. And, one sip of concoctions like the Pearl Diver or Cobra Kai will make you hope your two hour time slot doesn't come to an end very soon.
Like us, Tatsu and his partners love creating things and working their ass off to get things right. So, it was a massive pleasure when Tatsu randomly popped into our shop a few years ago because he saw surfboards for sale. A longtime surfer, Tatsu was intrigued at just who was selling surfboards in landlocked Austin. Since that day, we bonded over our love of surfing and all things tiki. Naturally, we just had to create a collection together to really seal the relationship. We caught up with Tatsu over a few drinks recently and this is what we learned.
You randomly popped into our shop a few years ago in Clarksville because you saw surfboards for sale through the window. Where did you start surfing? Do you still get after it?
I dream about surfing all the time. I skated for a long time but as I got older it hurt to fall worse than it did. A buddy told me to start surfing and I gave it a shot. I started at the surf park and instantly fell in love. This propelled me to go to Costa Rica and get an appreciation of the calmness and serenity that comes along with surfing. I was hooked, and one day when I was drinking coffee close to the shop, a surfboard caught my eye and that's when I found Howler Brothers.
We love tiki drinks and tiki culture here at Howler. Were you into that stuff too or did you sort of stumble into the world of tiki?
I didn't know much about Tiki culture until 2012 when my brother told me about it. The more I immersed myself the more I found out about my culture and Tiki in a serendipitous way. I kept digging and it really excited me. The craft of creating and working with the flavors along with the history was inspiring. I imagined my version of ‘Fingerprints of the Gods’ in the Pacific, Polynesia and Japan when working on Tiki Tatsu-Ya and it helped shape what I created.
If you were one tiki drink, what would it be?
That is a tough question, and it's hard to choose. If I had to pick I would say a Rum Barrel. It can be intricate to get right and there is an art to blending and layering flavors that go into a good one. It is a lot like what I do when making Ramen.
What's another job you think you'd love ?
I am content with what I do, there are so many jobs within the one job. I love it.
What's one item you can't live without?
My secret ingredient.
Photos by Kirsten Kaiser & Will Graham