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'Mamasan' helps Larkspur's Fukusuke Restaurant persevere with family touch

'Mamasan' helps Larkspur's Fukusuke restaurant persevere
'Mamasan' helps Larkspur's Fukusuke restaurant persevere 02:32

LARKSPUR -- As ordering through QR codes at restaurants, added service fees, and shorter menus become the norm when dining out, small independent restaurants are facing enormous challenges to keep customers satisfied.

Sizzling seafood noodle soup, called Yosenabe, boils to perfection but it's the woman dishing out orders to her son in the kitchen who's the heart and soul of Fukusuke Restaurant.

"We've been open 45 years," said Hitomi "Mamasan" Nakasu. "I'm very lucky." 

While the 85-year-old grandmother, better known as 'Mamasan' around here, humbly describes her immigrant family's arduous journey in the industry as being lucky, longtime patrons know why they keep coming back.

"Mamasan feels like an extension of family," said a patron who called himself David. "It is like an extension of home.

"They treat her like their own mom," said son and Chef Warren Nakasu. "It's amazing kinda like a second mom to everybody."

The restaurant survived the pandemic and COVID restrictions but staffing remains a challenge. Hitomi Nakasu employs a few part-time workers to help but never gets a break until after closing.

In a recent survey by the National Restaurant Association, more than half the industry says it will likely lay off employees during the next 6-to-12 months if business conditions deteriorate and the economy enters a recession.

In 1978, Hitomi and her husband Shoji opened Fukusuke in San Francisco after working tirelessly on a Northern California farm for years and saving just enough. They relocated to Sausalito, and then to Larkspur.

For Mamasan, it's the patrons, who become friends, who keep her going.

"It's the nice customers. I very much enjoy them," she said.

The restaurant has its endearing quirks, including a throwback 80's 'wave symphony' wall clock that long-time patrons try to explain.

"If you sit at that table you have to know when that clock goes off you have to look up at the clock so no one thinks your cell phone is going off," said David.

Countless frogs of all colors, shapes, and sizes adorn the restaurant almost everywhere you look. A gift from a customer a long time ago quickly turned into a tradition.

Mamasan believes the frogs bring good fortune, as well as the Fukusuke, traditional boy dolls which decorate the restaurant, too.

Nakasu raised three boys who all at one time worked for the family in the restaurant.

A combination of luck, hard work, and a caring community keeps this eatery thriving when so many have shuttered since the pandemic. There are no signs 'Mamasan' is slowing down.

"Eventually she will I guess when she gets tired of it," said Warren. "When I don't know. People just love to see her."

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