When you own the only maid cafe in the United States, like Oneka Samet does, you’re allowed to brag. However, the 35-year-old owner of Chou Anime Café in Midtown remains humble and even pleasantly surprised with her success.
Samet a native Detroiter, grew up on American comic books like X-Men and the Silver Surfer. With a penchant for reading comics it’s only naturally that she majored in English when she went off to college. She chose to do her undergraduate studies at Purdue, in order to explore another state, but came back home to get her Masters in Library Science from Wayne State.
During her master’s program, she took a part-time job at the Detroit Public Library. She enjoyed it so much that she took a full time position upon graduation. Her new full time position put her in the Teen Center. It was there that she discovered young people’s interest in Anime and Manga. They would gather in the library to read the latest books and share their love for the genre.
“All the book stores closed down so the library offered some outlets,” said Samet of the Detroit Public Library. The genre was fairly new at the time, gaining some following in the 90s and exploding in the 2000s.
Samet wasn’t surprised at the teen’s interest and encouraged the their hobby even going so far as to help organize a youth anime club at the library. However, she realized that while the library had a good selection, it was still missing a lot.
So seeing an opportunity, she sold Anime books and merchandise at booths at Wayne State University’s student center. She also set up shop at Russell Bazaar in Detroit and anime conventions around the midwest. These little booths helped prepare her for her future as cafe owner.
The decision to open a cafe was made in 2010, when she took a two week vacation to Japan to take in the culture. “I’d always been into Japanese fashion,” said Samet. She spent this time taking in sites and as much Japanese culture as she could.
By the time she left she had a desire to bring Japan back home. That’s when she decided to open up Chou Anime Café.
Originally Samet wanted to open an Anime restaurant, but soon realized that she “set the bar high.” Not one to give up on her dreams, she decided to open a cafe instead, starting small just as she did when she used to sell merchandise at booths.
And though it’s not the restaurant that she originally wanted, the cafe is more than a cafe. Chou Anime sells sushi, sandwiches, and salads using Michigan products when possible. They even sell locally made crafts next to their imported Anime and Manga merchandise. Samet wanted the cafe to mix Japanese and American culture just like they did at the Anime conventions she attended.
So far the cafe has been successful in bringing Japan to America and has even brought in an eclectic group of people. This is because of Samet’s focus on making all her guests feel warm and happy the minute they enter. She has instilled this attitude into her workers.
At any given time in the cafe you can find young anime fans, Detroiters in the area and even workers from the Detroit Medical Center who stop by for lunch and dinner.
Recently the cafe even got a visit from a group of Japanese tourists. Samet didn’t miss her opportunity to go up to the group and gauge their reactions. “They seemed happy with it,” said Samet. “Imitation is a form of flattery.”
Samet runs the day-to-day operations and her husband Joe Samet does the bookkeeping. She’s there when the cafe is open and looks over her staff’s safety, which is mostly composed of young women with the exception of one “butler.” Her dedication is paying off as the cafe made Yahoo News in Japan, which Samet thinks is “pretty cool.”
As far as future projects go, Samet hasn’t given much thought to them. “Right now, I’m focused on the cafe and making sure that it’s a success.”
With such an amazing start, we doubt she’ll have much trouble in that department.