There is a little chain, roadside hotel in Berea, KY (population 13,000) whose complimentary breakfast bar serves up the typical morning fare like waffles, yogurt, an array of pastries and cereal, oatmeal, and of course fresh coffee. But if you walked up to the breakfast bar of this particular hotel, you might be surprised to find an appliance that looks like this:
A rice cooker! You also might be surprised to find steaming pots of miso soup infused with scallions, tofu, and seaweed. Quite the unexpected morning experience to many a weary travelers through this sleepy southeastern Kentucky town. The hotel owners began serving steamed rice and miso soup to the frequent Japanese business professionals in town as part of their work with the local Hitachi Automotive plant, which produces electric drive motors for hybrid and electric vehicles and employs about 1,070 of the local workforce. In a world of pre-thawed cream cheese danishes and miniature boxes of Frosted Flakes, how did this come to be, you ask? It all started when a former Japanese hotel employee was working in the breakfast area and noticed the regular Japanese patrons not being too thrilled with the breakfast spread. So she mentioned it to the owners, who thought it might be a good idea to diversify morning options for these frequent patrons, thus offering up more traditional Japanese breakfast dishes. How very cool for a gargantuan hotel chain to be willing to mix things up and switch out stale bagels for steamed rice, in response to the likes and tastes of it's customers. On a practical level, the easily digested complex carbohydrates in the rice, protein in the tofu, and calcium and iron in the seaweed also make for a heartier, more nutritious first-meal-of-the-day. What's next, green tea and sake happy hours? Sign me up.