Deep in West Oakland, behind a big gray façade, is one of the most lauded soymilk, tofu and yuba factories in the Bay Area—Hodo Soy Beanery. Inside, Minh Tsai, tofu master and co-founder of Hodo, runs around wearing tall white rubber boots and a striped railroad hat while checking on each steaming batch of soy milk, tofu and yuba—that’s the dried skin that forms off the top of heated soy milk.
Hodo is unique because all of its products are hand-made, organic and are only sold locally. Because Hodo doesn’t use any preservatives in its soymilk, tofu or other products, it’s hard for people outside the Bay Area to buy their food. The company’s emphasis is on freshness and high-quality taste.
“For us, we are taking back tofu,” Tsai says. “If you do it right, it’s not that boring white block. Good tofu you can just eat.” Tsai is originally from Vietnam and says that he remembers drinking fresh warm soymilk from the market when he was young. He wanted to bring that same hand-made quality to soymilk and tofu made in the U.S. “It’s nothing earth-shattering,” he says. “It’s how people in the Bay Area look at food. The only earth-shattering thing is that we’re doing it with tofu.”
Minh started Hodo in 2004 with his brother-in-law Dean Ku, who works on the marketing side of the business. They first started selling homemade tofu at the Palo Alto farmers market—every week it would sell out. “It did well, to our surprise,” says Ku. “And we thought, ‘Hey, there’s a demand for this.’”
The two began working out of a small factory in San Jose and sold to more farmers markets, including the one at San Francisco’s Ferry Building. Eventually, several Bay Area top chefs, including the Slanted Door’s Charles Phan and Coi’s Daniel Patterson, began requesting Hodo’s tofu and yuba to use in their restaurants.
Last October, Hodo moved to West Oakland. In the 1920s, the building that now houses their soy beanery was a candy factory; it spent the last 20 years as a bakery. “We like that it has food heritage,” says Ku. They have between 25 to 30 employees, the majority from Oakland. Being a presence in the community is important to Hodo—they regularly host factory tours for school groups and residents of West Oakland.
Another important aspect for Hodo is to use organic and bio-diverse soybeans that have not been genetically modified. “For me, I realize that when I eat, I want to eat the best things,” says Tsai, which he says means food that’s organic, local and made by who love making food.
In addition to plain soymilk, tofu and yuba, Hodo also makes packaged products, like spicy tofu braised in a teriyaki sauce, thinly shredded sheets of yuba, pan-fried and tossed with a sesame paste, and tofu salad made with sesame oil, cilantro and edamame, which they sell at farmers markets, Whole Foods and Monterey Market. “When I think about making tofu,” says Tsai, “the fact is that it has to taste awesome.”
Hodo offers one-hour tours of the facility that include a video, Q&A and samples of their foods. For more information go to Hodo’s website.