How Sakura Square Dining establishments Are Weathering the Pandemic

Take in and Consume

Mask mandates and potential constraints have been lifted, but business remains gradual at Sakura Property and JJ’s Bistro.


Sakura Sq.—the cultural hub of Denver’s Japanese and Japanese American community—is home to two spouse and children-owned restaurants: Sakura Property and JJ’s Bistro, both equally of which have endured a hard year. “We have a difficult time, primarily from final calendar year,” says HuiYun Chen, who runs JJ’s Bistro on the mezzanine stage of the plaza, which overlooks Larimer and 19th streets, with her spouse Jiarong Wang. “Because all the businesspeople, they went dwelling.”

In mid-May, the Centers for Condition Command and Avoidance (CDC) announced that totally vaccinated people today no lengthier have to have to wear masks or social distance in most indoor and outdoor configurations. Subsequent the information of the CDC’s current suggestions, most metro area counties, such as Denver, lifted mask mandates and capability limits at dining establishments. As a end result, numerous that have been only giving takeout and shipping and delivery are welcoming prospects again for indoor eating. Nonetheless, company at Sakura Square’s eateries has not returned to normal—at the very least not nonetheless.

“We know that people are permitted [inside now], but we have not had a great deal of business enterprise,” says Chen, whose restaurant serves Chinese specialties.

Whilst JJ’s allowed shoppers to eat inside of the cafe when pick out COVID-19 restrictions were lifted in early 2021, it shut its roomy eating room once again in the spring and is back again to only featuring takeout for the time becoming. In the meantime, Sakura Residence owners Kimiko and Jun Watanabe, who have cooked Japanese fare at the place for 8 several years, give dine-in company at socially distanced tables—but like JJ’s, their organization remains focused on takeout. Even even though mask rules are lifted, Kimiko claims, “business is gradual since folks aren’t working downtown still. It’s a minor better on weekends.”

“I imagine of course the pandemic has afflicted our tenants, and the places to eat are specifically really hard hit mainly because folks are not likely out to take in, and even the takeout, most of the shoppers for takeout have been place of work workers from downtown,” suggests Tim Higashide, director of business operations for Sakura Square.

Sakura Square LLC owns and manages a parking good deal adjacent to the plaza, which is found two blocks from Coors Area. Higashide notes that owing to the decline of revenue from Rockies game parking final calendar year and the cancellation of the well-liked once-a-year Cherry Blossom Competition in 2020 and 2021, the corporation has been tough hit by the pandemic, too. (The LLC is owned by the Sakura Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to rejoice Japanese and Japanese American society and heritage and maintain the Tri-Point out/Denver Buddhist Temple.)

“We truly care about the tenants, and mainly because we’re a community-dependent organization, during the pandemic we have attempted to provide as a lot help as feasible, in the sort of lease help to the places to eat,” Higashide suggests.

The Watenabes opened Sakura Household in 2012, when the operator of the cafe that beforehand occupied the area, Yoko’s Categorical, retired. The husband-and-spouse crew arrived to the U.S. from Kanagawa, a culinary- and background-rich location south of Tokyo. Jun and Kimiko worked in Los Angeles places to eat for years before going to Denver and inevitably opening Sakura House. They stored Yoko’s Express’ simple, unfussy Japanese menu and added a selection of well-liked ramen dishes.

But the restaurant’s very best-marketing objects are Chinese-motivated dishes that are preferred in Japan’s machi chuka eating places. The style of foodstuff is based on Chinese cuisine that’s been adapted to Japanese tastes and ingredients. Quite a few of the couple’s Japanese clientele, he says, describe the dishes as “natsukashii,” or nostalgic, for the reason that they remind them of the meals they ate developing up in Japan. The menu also reminds quite a few Japanese American consumers of their moms’ dwelling-cooked foods. And anyone, of course, likes ramen for the reason that it is hip, Jun suggests.

“Sometimes American men and women appear in and say this is actually Japanese simply because they’ve visited Japan,” he says.

An previous-fashioned machi chuka specialty shoppers can buy is umani yakisoba (not to be perplexed with umami), pan-fried noodles and beef with Napa cabbage, carrots, onions, and bean sprouts in a wealthy potato-starch gravy. It’s not some thing you will uncover in the plethora of Japanese restaurants scattered throughout town these times. Jun is happy of the care he puts into his dishes, which are organized employing common recipes. He proudly simmers veggies and other substances from morning to night to create collagen-abundant bone broths and other soups for his ramens.

Umani yakisoba, brothy pan-fried noodles, from Sakura Residence at Sakura Square. Photo by Gil Asakawa

JJ’s Bistro is also housed in a former Japanese cafe: Akebono, a place formerly owned by the Aoki household given that the 1940s, when it initial opened across Larimer as a pool corridor that served American, Chinese, and Japanese foodstuff. The restaurant moved across the road into Sakura Square in 1973, and Haiyun Chen and her husband took in excess of the house in 2005.

JJ’s has a sushi bar it inherited from Akebono but is not serving the specialty due to pandemic-induced efforts to pare down the food lineup. But even so, the restaurant has a substantial menu showcasing more than 170 dishes spanning Sichuan and Mandarin Chinese cuisines, in addition to other people. “We have a minimal little bit of anything. We have Thai food stuff, [like] pad thai, and panang curry we have Vietnamese bowls,” suggests Chen, who likes reconnecting with her frequent shoppers whenever she can, even nevertheless the place is only providing takeout.

Chen and her workforce have tailored their cooking about the decades to fulfill their clienteles’ palates. For instance, the eatery’s very best-providing dish is sesame hen. Inspite of the attractiveness of sesame, sweet and bitter and General Tso’s hen among customers, even though, Chen notes that the dishes are American-born—not genuinely Chinese. She admits it can be tough to control the assortment on the menu and considers condensing it even extra. “Yes, if I redo the menu, I’m gonna transform it to a smaller sized one, you know what I imply?” she suggests.

Chen acknowledges the earth has transformed simply because of the pandemic and she worries that the foodstuff sector may perhaps not be the identical soon after “normal” returns. Lots of downtown officer staff, for occasion, could not return and keep related from home—something she suggests restaurant employees just can not do.

“Running a restaurant is not like performing in an office environment. I desire we could just operate at residence, but we cannot,” she states.

JJ’s Bistro, 1255 19th St., P1, 303-291-0598 Sakura Dwelling, 1255 19th St., device A, 303-292-2323

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