In the summer of 2018, Tanuki swept into Provincetown with a vibe meant to evoke the smells of springtime cherry blossoms, burnt chicken skin, and Cape Cod air. Named for the chubby, scrotally well-endowed raccoon dog of Japanese folklore (the supernatural version as opposed to the less-endowed, real-life raccoon dog), the temporary Japanese snack shop was one incarnation of an ongoing food and event project by Barbara Lynch Gruppo alum Rebekah Powers, partly fueled by a successful $50,000 Kickstarter campaign from early 2018.
Tanuki is back — and closer to Boston: Its next incarnation will be an event series in Somerville, a “wacky” collaboration with Buenas at Bow Market in Union Square, as Powers and Buenas founders Melissa Stefanini and Sebastian Galvez describe it.
The so-called Tanuki-in-Residence will kick off on Tuesday, August 6, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Buenas’ Bow Market shop, and the series will continue on Tuesdays twice a month for the foreseeable future. (The second installment will take place on August 27, with future dates announced later.) Attendees will be able to pre-purchase $25 tickets for a bento box of snacks and sweets including quail egg onigiri with Buenas’ pebres sauce, empanadas inspired by Japanese flavors, matcha cream puffs, iced green tea, and more. Those who prefer not to plan ahead can take a chance on a limited amount of a la carte snacks, treats, and merchandise.
This collaboration has been a few months in the making, with Powers lending the Buenas team a hand in Tanuki’s off season this winter. The trio “bonded over a passion for feeding stoned chef-friends and the challenges of crowdfunding and running a small food business,” as they wrote in a joint announcement today.
“Our brands are magical together,” Powers told Eater. “Beyond our mutual love of snacks, Nini [Stefanini] and I both have backgrounds in advertising and PR, respectively, and get excited about coming up with over-the-top stunts (such as Bass [Galvez] and Nini’s wedding in front of their shop) to bring attention to our fledgling brands in a market of short attention spans.”
Perhaps the collaboration between Tanuki and Buenas seems at first glance to be a surprising combination of flavors and ideas for a shop that is best known for its empanadas, but Buenas really doesn’t limit itself to empanadas — or to “authentic” South American flavors. (In fact, Buenas has played host to various other guest chefs who bring in flavors from around the globe, such as the special “hot noods” nights with chef Rachel Miller, who is working on opening a Vietnamese-inspired noodle bar in Lynn.)
“There’s more to empanadas than beef and chicken,” Stefanini told Eater. “We want to show people how far creativity can take a snack with authentic roots. Who says a big ol’ scoop of caviar doesn’t belong on an empanada? Fight me. Sometimes people walk into the shop and question the authenticity of our products. Sure, our empanadas might not be what their grandma makes, and that’s just it. We don’t make your grandma’s empanadas. We make our empanadas, which are authentic to us.”
“We take our food seriously,” Powers added, “but not ourselves. We revel in the absurd. Being able to laugh and take huge creative risks makes the terrifying financial burden, not to mention the sleepless nights of small food business ownership, worth it. Being able to work side-by-side with people who can both commiserate over the hardship and share the joy of little victories is a wonderful feeling.”
Both companies will announce more details about the menu and future events on social media as the date draws closer (follow each on Instagram: Buenas, Tanuki.) Plus, Tanuki — which is currently Somerville-based — is available for private events around the Boston area as well as Cape Cod.
Provincetown fans, however, will no longer find Tanuki in the old Happy Camper space on Commercial Street: “I would have loved to be back in Ptown this summer,” said Powers. “$10,000 a month to rent a 700-square-foot shop was not only financially unsustainable for my business model, working hard enough to afford that rent rotted my soul. Having the flexibility of messing around in the Buenas kitchen while I plan Tanuki’s next step is a creative Godsend.”
As for that next step, it could include something — or somethings — a bit more permanent. “Long-term goals include the hopes of a permanent Tanuki snack/tea shop in the Camberville area,” said Powers. “Another long-term, higher-end, secret project on the Outer Cape (not a snack shop) is also in the works.”