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March 30, 2023

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Pie-in-the-sky dreams realized with pizza cart

Japan native dishes up pizza from Hazel Dell food cart thanks to support, perserverance

By , Columbian Staff Writer
5 Photos
Daisuke Matsumoto got advice on how to install and use his wood fire oven by calling a food cart in Buffalo, N.Y., which also uses the oven.
Daisuke Matsumoto got advice on how to install and use his wood fire oven by calling a food cart in Buffalo, N.Y., which also uses the oven. (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

When Daisuke Matsumoto told his parents he was opening a food cart, they were worried. Embarrassed, even.

His parents thought he was going to go out with a push cart and try to sell food. In Matsumoto’s home country of Japan, where his parents still live, food carts are a bit different than what Northwesterners are used to.

“They pictured me as this poor guy out in the rain on the side of the road,” Matsumoto, 41, said. “I sent them pictures of my cart and they’re shocked. They said it looks like a little restaurant.”

Matumoto purchased a 20-foot blue trailer with $12,780 he’d raised through Kickstarater. In it, he installed a wood-fire oven that can go up to around 900 degrees and cook Neapolitan-style pizza pies in roughly 90 seconds.

On Dec. 12, Matsumoto opened Pizzeria La Sorrentina, 1015 N.E. 78th St. It’s part of Hazel Dell’s Food Cart Pod in the parking lot of The Museum: Cars by Ron Wade, which was expected to open in Spring 2015, according to its website, but is still not open. When reached by phone, Wade said the museum is “steadily progressing” and is “dealing with all the bureaucracy” that comes with opening a new business.

The pod also is home to FruiTea Bubble, La Casa Con Sabor and Steakburger. La Sorrentina is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Matsumoto is hopeful more carts will join the pod soon, but he’s thrilled so far with the location and that he’s actually open.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” he said. “It was nothing. Zero. I had a dream for a long time for something like this. I dreamt about this and now it’s here. It’s because of everyone who believed in me and donated to the Kickstarter.”

La Sorrentina’s menu will change regularly, Matsumoto said. He’s starting off with some basics, so he currently offers a Margherita pie, a pepperoni pie, a pie with sausage and sweet onion; a pie with mozzarella, Parmesan, smoked mozzarella and blue cheese; and a pie with artichoke, mushroom, salami and olives. The pies are all personal size and range in price from $8 to $10. He also offers a ricotta cheese and salami calzone, and a dessert calzone, which is filled with Nutella. The dessert calzone is an early favorite of his customers, Matsumoto said.

“I want the menu to change and offer pizza with totally different ingredients,” he said. “I plan on going to farmers’ markets and getting fresh, local vegetables to use, and using different ingredients when they’re in season.”

There will also be some unique items coming to the menu. One of the rewards for Kickstarter contributors was the chance to create and name a pie that will be on the menu for a month. Out of the 127 people who backed the project, 33 people selected that reward, which was valued at $100. It attracted the most backers of any single reward offered. Other prizes included private cooking lessons with Matsumoto, a pizza-making kit and a video of Matsumoto singing.

Cart origins in Japan

Matsumoto’s path to his food cart didn’t start with Kickstarter. It didn’t even start in America. It began when Matsumoto was working for two years as an accountant in Japan, a job he didn’t have much passion for. His father, Tomio Matsumoto, was a chef at an Italian restaurant, and Daisuke Matsumoto had grown up around the restaurant.

Matsumoto went to work for his father, learning all about how to own and run a restaurant. He learned the business side, such as the marketing skills and how to manage a restaurant, and the food side of things, working on the salad station.

“It takes a long time,” he said. “I worked there five years and developed a passion. I was ready to take care of my father’s restaurant.”

Around that time, he met a woman who was teaching English through a teacher exchange program. She stopped by Matsumoto’s father’s restaurant with a friend and a craving for this incredible lemon chicken she’d eaten there a year earlier. The restaurant was closed, but Matsumoto was there and he took the two to another restaurant. Despite a langue barrier, the two hit it off and started dating.

They kept the relationship secret for about eight months. When they told Matsumoto’s family, and they didn’t approve of him dating an American, the couple sought out support from others, including her school principal, his judo coach and fellow teachers. They had their friends talk to his parents, but those endorsements didn’t lead to a blessing from Matsumoto’s family.

The two were together about 10 months when she moved back to America in August 2004. The couple moved to Yakima the following January and within a year they were married. They have been together about 10 years, and Matsumoto’s family has since come around.

Still, moving to Yakima was quite the culture shock for Matsumoto.

“He was going to Seattle almost every weekend,” said Amy Matsumoto, Daisuke’s wife. “He still wanted that big-city feel.”

While visiting friends in Vancouver in 2007, they went to the Fourth of July celebration at Fort Vancouver and fell in love with the city and the community. After moving to the area a few months later, Matsumoto worked in a variety of restaurants in Vancouver and Portland. He also traveled to Sorrento, Italy, to train and work in restaurants for five months.

Locally, Matsumoto worked at Beaches and Heathman Lodge, and also taught private lessons. Amy Matsumoto worked at various schools as a teacher, and is currently a humanities teacher at Wy’east Middle School.

“This is a big change for me,” Matsumoto said. “I worked at Heathman as a pastry chef, and everything was great, but my passion to show what I can do.”

Amy Matsumoto helped her husband get everything set up, and said it meant so much to them to see support pour in for the Kickstarter campaign from friends in Japan, Yakima and Vancouver.

“It just makes me feel so fulfilled,” she said. “For 10 years, Daisuke has been here in the States. He gave up everything to be here. He moved around to support me and my career, and now I’m going to support him. It’s his turn now.”

Columbian Staff Writer