By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
TORRANCE — At Matsui Restaurant in Torrance, the shrimp tempura arrives lacy and crispy, in generous portions and served in a donburi bowl over warm rice. Longtime restaurant manager Arturo Ramirez, smiling through a paper mask, recalled the long lines for the Matsui special whenever Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui would hit a home run.
“We sold 400 Matsui Bowls in one day. The line went down to the hair salon,” Ramirez said.
“Some places the oil they use is not fresh. Our tempura, there’s no aftertaste. It’s really good.”
Matsui baseball memorabilia still decorates the restaurant interior but the chairs are empty and a large sign indicates takeout only. As challenging as business has been since the pandemic started in March, the restaurant never expected to be targeted by anti-Asian hate, only the latest in a series of incidents in Torrance.
Security video footage taken from inside Matsui on the morning of July 13 shows a man throwing something at the restaurant, smashing two of the large plate glass windows.
Speaking to The Rafu, an employee of a Japanese vegetable business explained that he was in his vehicle doing a delivery at the restaurant when he noticed a man with a bicycle, throwing rocks at Daiso. Out of concerns for safety, he asked not to be identified.
“I looked up again and he started walking towards Matsui. He went to pick up the rock again and he saw me, and he said, ‘Oh, you’re Japanese. Japan start COVID. Japan cause 9/11.’”
“He thought I was calling a cop because I had the phone. Threw a rock at the company vehicle, hit the windshield, cracked it, hit the front, and ran away,” the delivery employee recalled. “Good thing no one was hurt.”
Torrance Police took a report of the damage. Besides Matsui, it appeared that a back window at 85C, a popular bakery, had also been damaged.
Ramirez was notified and he explained that the restaurant had to close for the afternoon to board up the broken windows. Matsui Restaurant is part of a Japanese restaurant group that includes Sushi Boy, Mugimaru, Toritetsu Yakitori and Don Don Tei. They have opened a number of restaurants in Mitsuwa markets in Chicago and Texas, as well as the new Mitsuwa in Del Amo Fashion Center.
The next day, the Japanese manager of the restaurant group was driving on Normandie Avenue when he saw a man fitting the description of the suspect in a shopping plaza on the north side of Carson Street.
“I saw him on the street, wearing exactly the same clothes. Ninety-nine point nine percent, that is the suspect,” he said.
The manager, who asked not to be identified, parked at the shopping plaza and got out of his car to call Torrance Police. He was told that the suspect was not in Torrance but in the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Police Department. As he was trying to dial the LAPD, the suspect noticed him and started to approach.
“I focus on my phone, I didn’t see him. When I looked up, he started to move closer to me, shouting, ‘Are you Asian? Are you Asian?’”
“Step-by-step, less than 10 feet. When I saw him, in his hands, I saw … a knife,” the manager said, estimating that the knife was about 20 centimeters or eight inches long.
“I feel, ‘Oh he’s not normal, I cannot negotiate.’ I felt really scared, so I turned around and run.”
The manager dialed 911. LAPD officers came and arrested the suspect.
Aaron Sutton Angeles, 36, has been charged with assault with a deadly weapon and being held at Carson station on $125,000 bail. Booking was by the Torrance Police Department.
A week afterwards, the windows have been repaired and business is largely back to normal — at least what constitutes normal these days. The restaurant is an embodiment of the American dreams of immigrants. Serving authentic Japanese food is a staff that is largely Latino, managed by Ramirez, who is originally from Oaxaca, Mexico.
Ramirez first started with the restaurant when it was called Mishima in 1996, working his way up from busboy to dishwasher to manager. He spoke with pride of his daughters: one, a graduate of Cal State Long Beach, is working for Dreamworks; another daughter is in college and in an animation internship with Netflix. The youngest, his son, is attending Santa Monica College.
“I’m blessed. My kids are smart and bright,” he said.
Ramirez explained that Matsui is surviving COVID-19 through the loyalty of customers. The menu is a mix of Japanese comfort food such as soba, udon and nabeyaki.
“A lot of our regular customers, they are supporting us. Even if they have to drive far, they stop by. We are lucky that we have all these loyal customers.”
He recalled a customer who works for KCAL, who regularly brings her grandmother to the restaurant.
“She lives in Hollywood and drives all the way here to bring her grandmother. This lady, she’s 95, and she can eat the whole combo and she’s very active! She said, ‘I’m always busy in my garden,’ grows all her vegetables,” Ramirez said.
“She used to come with her kids and now the granddaughter brings her to eat here. I like that to see that they’re close. In Mexico we always take care of our parents and you always are there for them until they pass. That’s the way it should be.”
Another regular, Sheryl Martinez, stopped by to pick up her lunch order of sansai vegetables with soba noodles.
“I was coming here about every other week or so, when they were sit-down. I was glad they stayed open for takeout. I’m not ready for sitting indoors yet. For now, this is good,” Martinez said.
Matsui Restaurant, 21605 S Western Ave. # G, Torrance. Open for takeout seven days a week. More information at matsuiusa.net.
— Additional reporting by ELLEN ENDO
Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo