117-year-old Maneki restaurant serves Japanese comfort food through wars, economic crises and now COVID-19

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The outlines of the Maneki cats cover the wooden planks on the storefront of the legendary restaurant in Seattle’s Japanese neighborhood called Maneki.

The 117-year-old restaurant currently only offers take-out. Guests entering are usually greeted by owner and caretaker Jean Nakayama.

The long and narrow room which served as the dining room is currently under renovation. Maneki figurine cats are always on display throughout the room.

“The reason we have so many… we have a lot of regulars. They were going on vacation. It’s like, going on vacation, having a good time, not even… but they bother to think of us while they’re on vacation, ”Nakayama said with a smile. “They would buy a cat and say, ‘Oh, she doesn’t have this one.'”

Nakayama inherited the restaurant 23 years ago from her late husband Kozo Nakayama.

Sushi Chef Kozo Nakayma in Maneki.

“The restaurant has suffered a lot considering all the wars it went through and the Spanish flu,” Nakayama said. “We basically had to teach everyone what sushi meant.”

The current Maneki restaurant located at 304 6th Avenue South in Seattle is actually the storage room for the original restaurant.

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The first Maneki was only half a block from where the current community garden is located.

“It was shaped like a Japanese castle, so it was three stories, all white, there was this lavish terrace and a kind of Japanese garden. When World War II broke out and everyone had to go to camp … when they left, they all left their things here. It was storage. “

The original restaurant sat on top of the hill in Seattle’s Japanese Quarter.

A photo of the guests having dinner in the original restaurant.

Since then, generations of families have dined at the restaurant that opened in 1904, including Nakayama, who started dining with his family at the age of 8.

“We actually have up to four generations of families dining together, which is my pride and joy,” Nakayma said. “If it wasn’t for the customers they did the gofundme, they order online regularly, just full support. There isn’t a dollar sign you could add to that. I am truly very honored to this subject.”

Many of these repeat customers will recognize “Maneki Mom”, who turns 91 this year. She is a member of staff who started working in the restaurant when Nakayma was just a child.

Nakayama said she had been safely hidden in her home throughout the pandemic.

“I have a mum. Maneki Mum. Her job was to call all the singles because we have quite a few single guys. I would ask her to call them and see how they were doing so she could chat with someone. . Some of them, I think until last month they weren’t vaccinated and they should have been vaccinated in March, “Nakayma said.” This is mom, 91, and she’s like, you don’t ‘don’t need a date, get off and go get him. “

Jean Nakayama and “Maneki Mom” ​​have now worked together in the restaurant for decades.

It’s no surprise that this beloved restaurant has also received numerous accolades over the years, including a James Beard Award in 2008.

Currently, the restaurant is undergoing a makeover.

Maneki won a small business energy makeover with Puget Sound Energy, which will update the lighting and HVAC system as well as some interior modifications.

The restaurant also received a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation after hearing about Maneki’s history and goals for the future. The funds will help improve the exterior of the restaurant.

Some repeat customers are known as “Maneki Kids” like George Sommerrock who supports the restaurant and Nakayma with technology and social media.

Listen to an interview with him to learn more about an opening date for the dinner:

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