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Squamish’s Sushi Goemon owners pass the torch

Junko and Nobu Otomo bid a fond farewell as they retire.
Sushi Goemon
Junko and Nobu Otomo and Hideya Ohura.

Perhaps one of the fondest experiences that Mari Otomo has of her time at Sushi Goemon is watching customers grow up.

“I remember in the first years, we would see children who were just newborn kids coming in with their parents, and the parents would be eating sushi while they were sleeping in the stroller,” said Mari.

“Now they're in high school or about to graduate high school, and they come in with their friends and they order for themselves and pay for themselves.”

Mari has done her own fair share of growing up at the restaurant.

Back when her parents, Nobu and Junko, took ownership of Sushi Goemon, Mari was helping out whenever she could.

She was there on the first day when it opened 16 years ago. And now, she plans on being there for the last day before her parents turn ownership of the storied establishment to a new owner.

Even though the restaurant has been closed on Saturdays in recent times, on Aug. 28, the Otomo family will be making an exception.

They’ll be opening that day so that Mari, who now works as a social worker during the week, can have one last shift at the restaurant with her parents.

She said she’s grateful for how Squamish supported the business, which helped put her and her sister, a veterinarian in Louisiana, through school.

It’ll be a fond farewell. Her parents, who are in their early 70s, are retiring and will be transferring the restaurant to a new owner.

“Students or young people who have left Squamish to go to school or to go to work — every time they come to Squamish, they always visit my parents,” said Mari.

“Just witnessing that is really beautiful.”

Just before speaking with Mari on Aug. 20, The Chief visited the restaurant.

It was at 9:30 a.m. and the Second Avenue restaurant was closed.

But that didn’t mean things weren’t busy. Junko and Nobu were already behind the counter prepping for the day ahead.

They put down their pots and pans, took a pause, wiped down a nearby table and sat to tell their story.

The couple wasn’t always in the sushi business. In fact, they originally had no intentions of getting into it.

Before they became restaurateurs, the pair was living in Burnaby.

Nobu was working in management at a transportation company, while Junko was working as a teachers’ assistant in Simon Fraser University with ambitions to get a PhD.

“I wanted to get a job at a university, but at that time, I was over 50 years old and many young people had a PhD degree, and there was no job for me,” Junko said.

So she needed to find another way to pay the bills.

As fate would have it, a realtor friend of theirs told them that a small Japanese restaurant in Squamish was up for sale.

They had a look.

“Oh, it's a tiny restaurant — maybe we can handle it,” recalled Junko with a laugh. “We decided to buy it.”

Junko already had a bit of experience working part-time in a sushi restaurant in Burnaby. During summers, when the teaching assistant work dried up, she’d put on an apron for her job in the food business. The owner at that restaurant showed her how much of the eatery's operations came together.

Nobu, however, was a clean slate — he had no restaurant experience.

But, he’d soon get involved in the business himself.

“We had pretty good sales in the beginning, so I asked my husband to quit his job,” said Junko.

“And he came to help me here. He started work in the beginning of September. We opened on Aug. 8.”

They kept the name of Sushi Goemon, which was given to the restaurant by its previous owner.

Apparently, the previous owner originally had ambitions to open a noodle shop.

Goemon is the namesake of Ishikawa Goemon, a Japanese folk hero who bore many similarities to Robin Hood — he stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

However, he was executed by being boiled alive — hence the dark humour that connected the name to a noodle shop that would specialize in boiled foods.

"Always we had a good time,” said Junko. “We never had a bad time. We really, really enjoyed working here and all of our customers were so nice to us. So we never had a bad experience. No complaints at all.”

As for the next step, Junko and Nobu will be moving back to Burnaby for their retirement.

"[It’s] a little bit sad because we’ve lived in Squamish, which we like so much. But on the other hand, I'm excited to have a second life — to start a new life,” Junko said.

The couple won’t be idle in their new life. In fact, they’ll be getting right back to work.

The pair said they’ll be finding part-time jobs and volunteer work.

Junko also said she’s interested in taking some courses in geopolitics.

As for the future of the restaurant, the couple say it will be in good hands.

Taking over the establishment will be Hideya Ohura, who has been training at the restaurant over the last couple of months.

“I’m very grateful to be selected as the next owner here,” said Ohura.

He noted that the restaurant has a reputation for providing quality food. As one example, Ohura said he found out the Otomos take 13 hours to prepare one batch of teriyaki sauce.

Ohura has over 10 years of cooking experience in Vancouver, but he said this is the first time he’s observed so much love put into the food and in helping customers.

“I will definitely carry on this tradition while incorporating the new generation’s cuisine,” he said. “I’m very excited and I’m looking forward to seeing the customers here.”

Ohura will be the official owner of Sushi Goemon starting Sept. 1.