Fifty years of Fuji Ya
- January 21, 2009 - 12:21 PM
Fifty years of Fuji Ya
1959: Fuji Ya ("Second to none"), the state's first Japanese restaurant, opened in the former Lantern Tea Room at 814 LaSalle Av. S. in downtown Minneapolis. Nobuko and Kaoru Umetani, Reiko Weston's parents, operated the restaurant. Weston's husband, Norman Weston, helped build it, and Reiko eventually took over its management.
1960: The Westons' second Fuji Ya opens at 29 E. 5th St. in St. Paul. It closed several years later when the building was demolished for the Capital Centre project.
1968: Fuji Ya moved to 420 S. 1st St. in Minneapolis, a chic riverfront structure of glass, oak and rough cedar, designed by architect Newton Griffin, based upon a plan by Shinichi Okada. It was constructed over the ruins of the 1878 Standard Mill. Weston bought the land, 2.7 acres, for $20,000 in 1961. "I was intrigued by the Mississippi River," she told the Minneapolis Tribune in 1979. "I talked to officials of the Burlington Northern Railroad. They told me I was ridiculous to ask for property. Then one day, while driving on E. 1st Street. along the river bank, I saw a for-sale sign on a burned-down flour mill. I contacted the real-estate company and made an immediate offer. I hate to quote the price, it was such a steal."
1971: Fuji International opens at 408 Cedar Av. S. in Minneapolis, a moderately priced cafeteria geared toward University of Minnesota students. It closed in 1983.
1974: Fuji Ya adds the state's first teppanyaki service.
1978: Taiga, Weston's Chinese restaurant, opens in the St. Anthony Main complex, on the Mississippi River opposite Fuji Ya. It closed in 1986.
1979: Weston is named Minnesota's Small Business Person of the Year by the federal Small Business Administration.
1981: Fuji Ya launches the state's first sushi bar. It seated nine customers.
1982: Fuji Express opens on the skyway level of the Galaxy (now Towle) Building in downtown Minneapolis. Weston's restaurant empire employs more than 100 people and boasts revenues of nearly $3 million (about $6.8 million in today's dollars).
1988: Reiko Weston dies at age 59.
1990: Fuji Ya closes. After extensive litigation, the Minneapolis Park Board buys out the Weston family for $3.5 million in an out-of-court settlement.
1992: A tea house, dedicated to Weston and furnished with tatami floor mats and usuma (sliding room dividers) from Fuji Ya, opens in the Como Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden in St. Paul.
1997: Carol and Tom Hanson open Fuji Ya at 2640 Lyndale Av. S. in Minneapolis.
2001: The restaurant (fujiyasushi.com) moves four blocks south to its present location at 600 W. Lake St.
2005: A second Fuji Ya opens at 465 Wabasha St. in downtown St. Paul.
2009: Fuji Ya marks 50 years.
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