By MAY ZENG, HEIDI CARREON and MICK TRINIDAD, Rafu Contributors
Walking down First Street in Little Tokyo, it’s impossible to miss the neon “Far East Chop Suey” sign. 347 E. First St. has not served chop suey since the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and was reopened as Far Bar between 2008-2009. Then in 2018 Far Bar’s sister restaurant, Sake Dojo, opened on the same block.
One of the owners, Don Tahara, has been working closely with his daughter, Jill, to keep both restaurants running amidst a rapidly changing neighborhood and the COVID-19 pandemic. Family is at the core of Little Tokyo values, and the Tahara family shares their ups-and-downs of running a business during COVID-19.
When did you start working together?
Don Tahara (DT): Jill started when she was in high school. It was a lot of fun! It got me a chance to observe her work ethic outside of school. As a parent, it’s really important that your kids have a good work ethic.
Jill Tahara (JT): It seems as if we have been working together forever. If I had spring break or days off of school, I would tag along with my dad and go to meetings with him. I used to work every Tofu Festival. Although it’s possible that my definition of “working” may have been “eating” as a young child. Recently, I have taken on a role as an employee at Sake Dojo around February 2019, which was two months after I gave my notice at my old job.
What’s your earliest memory of being in your family’s restaurant?
JT: My earliest memory is probably eating chocolate chip cookies at his old 12th Street catering kitchen. My dad has had a few restaurants in the past, but catering has always been a constant. My most vivid memories are with his catering — walking around the USC campus and the Sports Arena when my dad used to cater for the Clippers.
How has working together impacted your relationship?
DT: Well, it’s gotten us a lot closer for sure. I have much more respect for her because of the way she conducts herself professionally. She works well with her fellow employees, and she makes it a point to go out of her way to be especially nice to them and take care of them.
JT: It has changed our relationship into more of a friendship. The past couple years have shifted our “father-daughter” dynamic. I actually feel more like an adult now! We see each other much more and my recent call log is predominantly my dad instead of my friends. If you see his phone, though, you’ll see that he has plenty of missed calls from me due to difficulty hearing his phone ring.
What advice do you have for father/daughter duos working together?
DT: Initially, patience because there is a learning curve. It’s hard for fathers to understand that their children just don’t grasp things because of, you know, genetics. Like everything else, to be good in any business, you have to learn the business and you have to have interpersonal skills. And Jill has both.
JT: This is a funny question to me for some reason. I’ve never considered us a “father-daughter duo” since it feels more like I’m helping out. Nonetheless, my advice is to always make sure the other doesn’t forget to eat and to try and remember to have conversations outside of work. To daughters in the duo, I would recommend to always roll your eyes when jokes are bad and don’t forget to spend time with Mom too!
What has Jill’s support meant to you during shelter-at-home when your restaurants had to remain closed for so long?
DT: I could not have done it without her, I could tell you that. There’s so many things that go into running a business, and it’s very easy to ignore certain facets of it, so it’s good to have a daughter to remind you what needs to get done,
The other thing is that, as a young person, she has more skills than I do when it comes to things like social media, emails and texting, and things like that. I did not grow up using that, so she taught me quite a bit on how to integrate those aspects into our business.
There’s also a generational value. She understands the needs and expectations of her generation are different than how I was raised.
One of the things that I value the most is the fact that she wants to help her dad. During the course of the day, even though I’m around the bar all day long, I don’t eat because I’m too busy. And so she always makes sure that she prepares some food for me, so I can eat. The whole aspect of caring for her father and looking out for my welfare, that’s something that I really really appreciate. She’s not just being the dutiful daughter, but she’s also being the caring daughter.
What of each other are you most proud of?
JT: Definitely my dad’s work ethic and perseverance. I think the success of Far Bar is due to my dad’s dedication to the bar/restaurant even if that means he is cleaning the bathrooms, responding to crises past midnight on a Friday night, or, like right now during COVID-19, hustling to find new streams of revenue. He never believes he is too good for a job and he never says, “An owner shouldn’t have to do that.” I think that’s extremely admirable and it’s a trait that I hope I can instill in my future children as well.
DT: The fact that she’s able to multi-task. First of all, she has other jobs, she doesn’t just work with me. She’s an occupational therapist as her training. She got her doctorate in occupational therapy from USC, but she has always juggled part-time jobs and full-time jobs in addition to working with us at Sake Dojo and Far Bar. And on top of that, she has a full-time fiancé! She’s got her hands full!
What are you both like outside of the restaurant?
JT: My dad loves Candy Crush on his iPad. I’ve found him mid-game with a glass of wine half empty, TV blaring and him fast asleep on the sofa after a long day.
He never cooks at home because he makes a huge mess and my mom hates having to do a second clean after he “cleans.”
Dad loves booze (duh) and is one class away from obtaining a wine certification from UCLA Extension. He can talk about beer, wine, whiskey for hours and hours if you let him.
My dad enjoys teasing his siblings and cousins. He has an excellent memory (some have told me photographic!) and enjoys recalling family and college stories. As I’ve gotten older, my dad has been an open book and I find that some of our college stories are pretty similar! Weird! But cool!
DT: She’s always enthusiastic and always wants to take care of other people. She enjoys fun, enjoys food immensely (and drink)… and to bring that type of enthusiasm to the restaurant — understanding what good food tastes like, having fun eating food, having fun drinking cocktails and trying new whiskeys and beers — it just ties in nicely with what we’re trying to do at Sake Dojo and Far Bar.
Share with us your dad’s process in making a menu from your point of view.
JT: He works best when given free reign since he can make whatever kind of menu someone may want. He takes into consideration everything from family favorites, weather, experience, etc. For example, my friend’s mother wanted a nice meal for an engagement party, but didn’t have a clue of what. My dad asked about my friend and his now-wife’s favorite foods, her family favorite foods, and what kind of experience she wanted it to be, and from there he was able to narrow it down.
Sake Dojo/Far Bar has a special menu available for Father’s Day, which includes a choice of Hickory Smoked BBQ St. Louis Ribs OR Hickory Smoked BBQ Half Chicken, Seasonal Fruit Salad, Homemade Potato Salad with Egg, Farfalle Pasta Salad, Caesar Salad, plus select alcohol options available for pre-order until June 18 at 10 a.m.
Interested to order from Sake Dojo or Far Bar? Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow them on social media for the latest specials: @SakeDojoLA @FarBar_LA