Suehiro Cafe facing eviction after more than 50 years in Little Tokyo: 'Our heart and soul is there'

Anabel Munoz Image
Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Beloved Suehiro Cafe in Little Tokyo facing eviction
Little Tokyo is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, but the number of legacy restaurants that have been there for more than 50 years is getting smaller.

LITTLE TOKYO, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Little Tokyo is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, but the number of legacy restaurants that have been there for more than 50 years is getting smaller. Now, one of them is facing eviction. However, there's a large community effort to support them.

Kenji Suzuki is the second-generation owner of Suehiro Cafe and "survival mode" is how he described the last few years. From the pandemic to facing an eviction.

"It's getting to a point where it's physically getting difficult for us to keep going," said Suzuki. "Every day I come here, and I see my mom's mural ... and that somehow kind of keeps me going."

Suzuki's mother and aunt founded the Little Tokyo restaurant in 1972, and they've been serving customers on 1st Street for more than 30 years.

Suzuki says their lease was not renewed. Their rent was hiked up from roughly $6,500 to $10,000, and then came an eviction notice. They opened up a downtown location on 4th and Main in September.

"I believe, this year, around the beginning of the year, was the official eviction notice," said Suzuki, who also pointed out that due to development in the region, other tenants face similar challenges.

"Our heart and our soul is there. My mother's legacy is there. So I would rather stay there, but I think there's a bigger issue at play now," said Suzuki.

Outside their restaurant, community members rally to gather signatures to stop the eviction and sound the alarm on the gentrification in Little Tokyo.

"We implore the city to implement a legacy business program that prioritizes stability in low-income communities of color by incentivizing long-term leases for businesses like Suehiro, and provides concrete measures to ensure that future eviction and displacement is avoided," said Grant Sunoo with the Little Tokyo Service Center.

Suehiro Café is known for its Tonkotsu Ramen, Katsu Curry, Okonomi Bento Box, and more. It's described as a place that fosters community and culture.

"I used to bring my grandmother here twice a week, every week for many years," said customer Nicole Bushnell. "My mother loves the house special."

But community leaders say legacy restaurants like this one are few.

"We only have a handful that are over 50 years old, and a lot of the other businesses that would be part of that set have been displaced for one reason or another over the last several years," said Kristin Fukushima with the Little Tokyo Community Council.

An attorney for the building owner told Eyewitness News they cannot comment on pending litigation.

Suzuki's attorney was in court Tuesday seeking to delay the eviction. The judge allowed them to stay open for the rest of the year, provided they leave by Jan. 16.

Meanwhile, the coalition of organizations has launched an online petition and will hold a rally this weekend. Throughout it all, Suzuki's mother's resilience keeps him going.

"I don't think she knew how to give up," he said.

And neither will he. Suzuki is confident they will be back in Little Tokyo one day.

"I know someday we will return. We have to return."