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When is a restaurant more than a place to eat? Part 2

In Part 1, we learned about Maneki's history. Part 2 shares how owners and customers alike continue that love of community.

"Our customers became more diverse in the mid-'80s," recalls caretaker/owner Jean Nakayama. "People traveled to and from Japan and learned about the food. I still have regulars from that time. One of our customers had her birthday here each year until she was 96. Her dad started bringing her here from Vashon Island on her eighth birthday. We were the first to have a karaoke bar in Seattle; I still have the equipment! At first it was on cassettes. If someone wanted to sing a specific song, we had to fast forward the tape. My husband bought two set-ups so there wouldn't be a lag while we forwarded. Then it went to laser disc. At the time, we were in an empty building; it didn't matter if we made noise. When the building was remodeled for tenants, they didn't like the music, so we stopped doing it.

Caretaker Jean Nakayama

"In 1993 the building owners wanted to renovate. They wanted my husband to stay, but there was a cost to do the build-out. At the time, he was catering on the side. He didn't have to be part of it, he could have kept doing the catering and have time to golf with his friends. Why would he want to take it on? He never really answered me, but in hindsight I think he felt it was his duty to the community to keep Maneki alive. Young people need to know about the traditional dishes. Food and people connecting are so important.

Sushi Chef Kozo

"I get teary-eyed when I think about how our customers feel about us. Our customers have been supportive and caring for so long. Some of our kids started a GoFundMe when the pandemic started. They set a goal of $10,000 and we hit it in five days. The comments we got were so meaningful. One said that we were always there on their birthdays and when they were having good times with their family, so now they would be there for us. We've seen customers' kids go on to Harvard, Yale, Brown, the UW, Stanford. One family had a son that they were very strict with, and he was always studying. When he graduated, I gave him some money to have some fun. He's gone on to become a researcher, study in Taiwan, donating time and money. I'm so proud of him. His comment was that it was his turn to do something for me and he gave me the exact amount I'd given him for graduation. All of this made me determined to stay open and afloat during the pandemic. I owe it to my customers so they can have all the important times with their families."

Currently they are take-out only while they use the grant money they've received. By vote, they received a Puget Sound Energy grant that they are using to redo the restaurant interior, including new kitchen equipment, hot water tank, and an air filter in their HVAC system. They were also one of 25 restaurants to receive a $40,000 grant from American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation which will go toward exterior work and signage. "The Trust has someone to guide us through getting things done," notes Jean. "Our customers are the ones who found out about the grants. One guest came in and said, 'My wife says I need to give this to you.' Another guest filled out the forms and took pictures. The kids who are tech savvy followed through. Everyone helped us."

Maneki specials

Like its namesake, the "welcoming" or "beckoning" cat, Maneki has warmly welcomed so many into their family, offering a community gathering space, training ground, support, a place to keep traditions alive, and to celebrate events or just be with family. Each owner/caretaker has kept the Maneki tradition of helping others alive. Legend has it that the cat brought prosperity or luck and was honored forever. History repeats itself.

Connie Adams/July 2021


304 6th Ave S
Seattle, WA 98104

Click here to read part 1





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