Fish King in Glendale has announced that Hank “Toto” Kagawa passed away on the morning of March 16. He was 92.
“Since 1956, Hank worked hard to grow Fish King, Inc. and provide a family atmosphere for all of us,” the company said on Instagram. “Please join us to mourn the passing of Hank Kagawa and keep his memory alive by continuing to strive to be your best.”
Located at 722 N. Glendale Ave., Fish King is an independently owned specialty seafood market offering various amounts of fresh and frozen seafood daily, along with poultry, groceries, and house-made original marinades and sauces to complement. The market provides catering for events and its “Galley-Deli” offers freshly prepared and cooked food to take home or dine in.
“At Fish King, we take pride in our quality products and friendly service while we strive to continue being one of Southern California’s finest purveyors of seafood,” the company says on its website. “Direct, from the sea to you!”
Kagawa’s grandfather immigrated from Japan to Hawaii around the turn of the century. Kagawa’s father moved to Southern California and started a produce trucking business and a grocery store, only to lose both when Japanese Americans were forced from their homes and busineses and incarcerated during World War II. After the war, he opened a small market in Little Tokyo.
As a young man working his way through commercial art courses at Los Angeles City College in 1952, Kagawa began working part-time at Fish King. Eventually, in 1956, the enterprising Kagawa and his uncle, Harry Kuruma, took over ownership of the market, which consisted of a small storefront with two old fish cases.
The store was a two-man operation back then, and Kagawa and Kuruma did everything, struggling for a few lean years until business picked up. In l968, when Kuruma died, Kagawa took over the helm and made changes and new innovations that proved to serve the business well.
Kagawa’s son, Jon, began working at Fish King as a child and has now been with the market for more than 50 years. He plans to continue his father’s tradition of quality and customer service.
Fish King’s distribution plant, located in Burbank, is managed by Richard Asao, who applies the same basic “mom and pop” approach that he learned in his many years with the company.
Kagawa was nicknamed “Toto,” and a popular line of products — tartar sauce, cocktail sauce, Louis dressing, cucumber dressing, sesame dressing, miso dressing, teriyaki marinade — was named after him, as was the Totorrito sushi burrito, whose ingredients include soy paper, rice, cucumber, scallions, avocado, sesame seeds, cilantro and spring mix. He was also known as “Old Man Fish King.”
Products bearing the Fish King label include Thai sweet chili sauce, dill sauce, cioppino base, fish stock, sake/soy marinade and miso/sake marinade.
“With the coming of huge supermarkets and corporate domination, we are now one of the very few remaining independent specialty fish markets from the early years,” the company said. “Come in and see why we’ve stood the test of time! All our Fish King Originals are freshly made here in our Galley kitchen. This is as close to homemade as you can get without us in your kitchen!
“We pride ourselves in providing personal customer service, the finest quality product and competitive pricing to each and every one of our accounts.”
Condolences from customers have poured in. A few examples:
“Hank was a kind and great business owner. We will miss him, and I hope his family and/or business partners keep his legacy going. I shop at Fish King often and have recommended this place to many I know. Great quality and great-tasting food. May the heavens enjoy you as much as we did.”
“I’m so sorry about your loss. We have been loyal customers of Fish King for over 50 years. Whenever it was a holiday, my dad would always go to Fish King to pick up shrimp, crabs, lobsters — the quality was always perfect.”
“Legendary spirit. Toto will be greatly missed, and remembered by the multitude of Fish King patrons.”
Photos courtesy Fish King