By TOMOKO NAGAI, Rafu Japanese Staff Writer
Two local Japanese restaurant owners have been faced with double troubles — the impact of the coronavirus crisis on business and literally being robbed.
Yet both are refusing to take this lying down and are determined to continue working, with the support of their customers, friends and community. With warm hearts and new connections, they are discovering treasures even in the midst of tremendous difficulties.
On the evening of April 17, Tomoko Kobayashi, owner of Irifune in downtown Torrance, stopped at Union Bank’s drive-up ATM on 158th Street and Western Avenue in Gardena. When she withdrew some cash and was about to close her car window, a man appeared out of nowhere, threatened her with a long tool that looked like a screwdriver, and demanded money. As soon as she closed the window, she said, the man pulled out a pistol slightly larger than a cell phone.
Flustered, Kobayashi drove out of the parking lot. She believed she was safe and never dreamed that the man would pursue her. The suspect, whom she believed to be a multiple offender, had a getaway car ready. When she stopped at a red light on a residential street, the same man got out of his car and attacked her again. He struck her car with the screwdriver and attempted to get in.
She sped away as fast as she could and ended up at the New Gardena Hotel, where she was assisted by the police.
On her Facebook page, Kobayashi wrote, “When I had a gun pointed at me, for the first time in my life I feared I was going to die.” In such a situation, some might say that their mind went blank, but in her case, her mind went dark, as though she were staring into the abyss. While recounting this traumatic experience, she has also tried to prevent others from suffering a similar fate by providing descriptions of the man and his car.
Lt. Chris Cuff of the Gardena Police Department confirmed the details of Kobayashi’s account. No arrests had been made as of Tuesday afternoon.
Late that same night, Kashiwa Ramen in Costa Mesa was broken into. The owner, Hiromitsu Yamanouchi, was notified by the alarm company and the police. The glass door was broken, the cash register was damaged, and cash and iPads were stolen. Fortunately, this happened after business hours and no one was there.
The security camera showed two men breaking down the door with something like a crowbar, entering the restaurant and smashing the register on the floor
“Normally, there would be eating and drinking establishments in the same mall open until late at night, but now, because of corona, they are closing early,” he said. The mall was always lively, and in the past six years there had never been an incident like this.
At this point it is unclear if these types of crimes are connected to the disruption of daily life caused by the continuing restrictions placed on businesses and the stay-at-home directives. Places that used to be crowded have gradually fallen silent, and online/virtual interaction has become common due to the need for social distancing. The misfortune that befell these two restaurant owners speaks to two aspects of the pandemic — the hope that things will gradually return to normal and the increasing opportunity for crime.
In particular, the ATM incident was a shocking one since something terrible could easily have happened to Kobayashi. According to police who surveyed the crime scene, the perpetrators were likely repeat offenders who had been watching over the ATM from their car, waiting for a victim to show up. Kobayashi showed good judgment by overcoming her fear and driving her car to the hotel.
“But I was really afraid,” she said. “From now on, I won’t go out at night by myself and will be mindful that there is danger all around me.” Kobayashi continues to operate her restaurant, unwilling to give in to fear.
One thing that both interviewees have in common — upon hearing of the incidents, friends, customers and even strangers contacted them, one after another, to express their concern and encouragement.
“A pizza restaurant in the same mall went on their social media and said, ‘Our neighbor has been victimized. Let’s help out,’” said Yamanouchi. After that he heard from his customers — “I have a glass shop. I can replace your door for free.” “If you need your register fixed, I can do it.” As he has already carried out repairs, he didn’t have to ask for such favors, but he says he is truly touched by the kind offers.
The coronavirus restrictions have put restaurant owners in a difficult position. To prepare for the day when all of the employees and regular customers return, the managers are doing their best to protect their businesses.
“My feeling is that I am not going to be defeated by these robberies,” said Yamanouchi.
Despite these trying times, the two restaurants are also showing their support for the community by providing special prices for seniors and health care workers.
Known for its fresh sashimi and casual “gozen,” Irifune is lowering its already reasonable prices even more during this coronavirus period. Specials are announced every day on Facebook and Instagram. For example, the Iwashi (sardine) Yakimono Bento ($5.50) and Salmon Ikura Don ($11.95) are being offered and there is 10 percent discount for selected lunch items for seniors over 65. The restaurant is open from 11:30 a.m. to last order at 8:30 p.m.
231 Cabrillo Ave., Unit 107
Torrance, CA 90501
Order at (310) 782-7330
Text orders at (310) 218-6975
Also known for its Chicken Shoyu, Noko Tonkotsu, and Konbu Dashi soups, Kashiwa Ramen takes orders on the phone and via Grubhub and Postmates. If you say you saw it on Intagram, you get 15 percent off. Also, since beer take-out is now permitted under state law, 24-ounce Sapporo Draft Beer, which makes a perfect combination with ramen, is available for $2.50. There is also a BOGO (buy one, get one free) offer for health care workers. Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
1420 Baker St. #C
Costa Mesa, CA 92626