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With grandson at the helm, famed bakery in San Francisco's Japantown celebrates 50 years

Famous San Francisco Japanese-American bakery turns 50
Famous San Francisco Japanese-American bakery turns 50 03:39

A Japanese-American bakery in San Francisco and its famous coffee crunch cake turn 50 years old this year. The man now running the shop in the city's Japantown seeks to continue his grandfather's legacy.

While his grandson crunches up a tray of candy coating, Moses Yasukochi still can't help but sneak a piece of the signature dessert he himself had baked for decades.

"Somehow or other, I lasted 50 years!" Yasukochi smiled.

The San Francisco native opened Yasukochi's Sweet Stop in December 1974. That was his dream growing up.

"I'm happy," he said.

The 87-year-old recalls how he could not refuse when friends offered him space for a bakery inside a grocery store.

"When it was a lot younger, I always said, 'I want to open a bakery in Japantown.' Because there's no bakery in Japantown," Yasukochi said.

He made a name for himself perfecting his own twist on the classic coffee crunch cake made famous by the old Blum's bakery on Union Square. A glowing newspaper review changed everything for the young business owner.

"It really took off and ever since my business has gone up," he said.

The publicity stirred up demand for the coffee crunch cake from locals and visitors from across the country.

Yasukochi's wife, Hatsy, helped decorate the cakes and her smile became the face of the bakery. Then in 2020, Hatsy passed away after exposure to COVID.

"She was really good with the customers. Me, I was the grumpy guy in the back making stuff," he chuckled.

Today, Yasukochi is retired because of health issues, the weekly shop hours have been reduced, and he's turned the shop over to his grandson, Kenji Yick, a graduate of the French Culinary Institute.

"Grandpa didn't have any of his kids want to do it, so we skipped a generation," he smiled.

The city has named the bakery a Legacy Business. Yick said keeping it open is not just good for the family, it's also good for Japantown.

"We've been losing a lot of really old businesses around here. Nice to know at least one of them will be sticking around," said Yick.

So far, Yick is following his own recipe for success. The Sweet Stop is a semi-finalist for a 2023 James Beard Award, the culinary equivalent of the Oscars.

Despite its sustained popularity, Kenji admits he cannot bake his family's famous cake and eat it too.

"Fifteen years of having it every single birthday, you get tired of it eventually, so I don't think I've had it beyond taste tasting just to make sure it's right," Yick laughed.

For him, the icing on the cake is making people happy.

"That's one of the things I enjoy the most about it is, you give 'em the cake, and 'Oh, I'm so excited.' 'It's a big birthday party, we're so excited.' 'Oh, my grandma ate this when she was growing up,'" Yick explained.

And so, with his grandfather on the sidelines, Yick keeps the family tradition alive, celebrating five decades of growing a sweet spot for Yasukochi's Sweet Stop.

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