Watch CBS News

SF Japantown Staple Open Since 1906 to Close Its Doors in the New Year

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A beloved Bay Area business that makes traditional rice cakes will be closing after more than 100 years.

Tray after tray of sweet rice are soaked in water, steamed soft to perfection, and then pounded.

It's cut, hand-shaped into large spoon sized- flat cakes called Mochi in Japanese.

"As a kid I used to eat it everyday but not too much now," said co-owner Ricky Okamura.

Ricky and Bobby Okamura's grandfather opened Benkyodo Company after the 1906 earthquake, building one of the first businesses in Japantown.

"My grandfather and father would be proud that we were able to continue for this long," said Bobby Okamura.

Days before the New Year, family and friends help to meet high demand for these traditional treats.

"I really enjoy making mochi and packaging them," said Kohl's Akiyama.

Each day this week, they're making 350 pounds of Mochi.

At their peak years ago, they were making 1200 pounds a day, which would take them 14 hours.

"One thing I won't miss is getting up at 3 o'clock in the morning," said Ricky Okamura.

Now that Ricky is 70 years old, Andrew Sumi is doing the heavy lifting.

He's been helping since he was a little kid.

"At first I didn't like it because I wanted to spend time elsewhere but as I grew older I have more of an appreciation for it," said Sumi.

"It's family coming together and having a good time and enjoying each other's company," said Bobby Okamura.

Long-time customers stop by to chat, and pick up orders.

"We just got a big box that was set aside for us. It's the best. This is the last year. I know I'm so sad about that. It's just not the same. I've been coming here since I was a little kid," said customer Stephanie Sato.

"It's sad. These little ones are going to grow up and we wanted to leave a little something for them. There's a lot of history here," said long-time employee Ben Nakajo.

But decades of back-breaking labor are slowing the brothers down these days, who hope someone will buy and take over the business.

If not, they'll be closing shop after the New Year, and are ready for a well-deserved retirement.

"Thank you to all our customers for being so loyal all these years. We tried our best and did our best," said Bobby Okamura.

The original shop was on Geary Boulevard but because of World War 2 and the internment of Japanese Americans, the shop closed before reopening at its current location on Sutter and Buchanan street.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.