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THROUGH THE FIRE: Where Everyone Knows Your Name


There are a couple of restaurants in Little Tokyo where people who are active in the community seem to gather to share a meal or discuss some community-related activity.   One restaurant in particular stands out for me because it has the same kind of atmosphere that the TV show “Cheers” used to portray – a hangout for regulars and friends.

There is a special feeling to walk into a diner and see customers that one recognizes and to exchange greetings with them, and the wait staff greets you by name with a warm smile and welcome.

On one recent occasion, I walked in and saw some folks from a project called Sustainable Little Tokyo who were obviously having a meeting over dinner – perhaps planning the next event to help promote the preservation of Little Tokyo and its history and culture. As I walked further on in the restaurant, I saw another group of people — members of NCRR (Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress) also eating and meeting — perhaps to work on the next event to further the fight for civil rights and social justice.

Even though I didn’t want to disrupt their meetings, as members of both groups spied me walking by, they smiled and waved and shouted out exuberant greetings – and it felt good to see many friends who happen to share the same space.

At the counter were several people sitting alone on stools (?) and occasionally chatting with the waitresses. One of them went behind the counter to help himself to a coffee refill, which I presume he was accustomed to doing, and none of the staff objected.

I had heard that some of these counter-customers were true “regulars” who came in almost daily. On one occasion, the Latina waitress, we’ll call her “Dolly,” noticed that a Japanese woman regular hadn’t come in for two days straight – and Dolly wondered if the lady was OK. Even though the Japanese woman didn’t speak much English, there was an unspoken connection between her and Dolly.

With growing concern, Dolly went to where the lady lived at the San Pedro Firm Building (located next to the Union Center for the Arts) and knocked on her door. When Dolly and the building manager entered the room, they found the lady on the floor, unconscious and dehydrated, and called the paramedics to take her to the hospital. Dolly chose not to focus only on her job as a waitress but to act as a friend and neighbor and as a result helped to save this lady’s life.

I doubt that everyone knew this lady’s name, but what mattered was one person who did care enough to take action.

There is something more taking place in this restaurant than just eating and friendships but a sense of “community/” Sometimes a restaurant can become a place where people come together to not just share food, but to work for the public good and at the same time, watching out for each other. When this happens, the place can be someplace special.



Bill Watanabe writes from Silverlake near Downtown Los Angeles and can be contacted at The Rafu Shimpo’s management and staff continually strive to maintain high editorial standards for professionalism as well as accurate and balanced news coverage. The inclusion of a particular piece, including columns and op-ed submissions by contributing writers in print and/or digitally, does not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the owners, management, individual staff members, and editors. The Rafu Shimpo welcomes responses to any article published in print or digitally. Responses may be sent to author directly or emailed to

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