Behind Sushi California’s unassuming, half-hidden storefront are an “intimate” environment, live music and decades of personal connections with customers, according to co-owner Jahlee Arakaki.
But after 36 years of the business being open, the owners are searching for a buyer for the restaurant, as first reported by Berkeleyside.
Jahlee Arakaki said the restaurant has a varied menu with items such as nasu dengaku — an eggplant dish with miso sauce — specialty rolls and Okinawa soba.
“As a small, hole-in-the-wall location that is a couple feet below street level, it is hard to notice us, but we never advertised, kept prices low, and slowly, a neighborhood restaurant was (created),” Jahlee Arakaki said in an email.
Co-owner and chef Ryoji Arakaki is ready to retire at age 70 after years of shopping for ingredients, preparing fish, training employees and creating dishes on his own, according to Jahlee Arakaki. While the restaurant scaled down to only serve dinner four days a week, the work can still be “grueling,” Jahlee Arakaki added.
The co-owners are persisting in their search for a different owner, but it has been difficult because of inflation and high costs, Jahlee Arakaki said.
“We can’t just close,” Jahlee Arakaki said in the email. “We want someone to buy it and continue it as a neighborhood sushi bar. It is set-up perfectly for this type of business.”
According to Jahlee Arakaki, Ryoji Arakaki’s dream growing up in Okinawa, Japan was to open a sushi restaurant. After coming to Berkeley in 1973, he worked for different sushi restaurants and learned from master chefs in the San Francisco Bay Area before opening his restaurant on Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
At first, the business struggled when parking was removed from the street where the restaurant was located, Jahlee Arakaki said. Later, business “doubled” when the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was closed for repairs, Jahlee Arakaki added. According to Jahlee Arakaki, despite these highs and lows, what the couple will remember most is their customers.
“We have made friends of families with babies that are now adults coming for dinner regularly every Friday for a night out after work,” Jahlee Arakaki said in the email. “My son and daughter and their friends’ families from the time they were in elementary school through high school have regularly come by, now with children in their 30’s.”