George “Gimper” Izumi
George “Gimper” Izumi passed away peacefully in Los Angeles on August 2, not far from where he was born in Hollywood, CA. He is preceded in death by his beloved Grace in 2014.
If George was baking the recipe for his own life, it would most likely be:
1 large stout heart
1 cup hot stubbornness
1 cup sifted perseverance
1/2 cup grated tenaciousness
1-1/2 cups sweetened generosity
4 tablespoons fresh-picked innovation
Mix thoroughly by hand with love and hard work
Bake for 99 years
If you lived in Los Angeles in the 50s, 60s, or 70s, you most certainly have heard of George’s legacy bakery, Grace Pastries. But this doughboy entrepreneur was a lot more than his famous Dobash torte, M&M cookies, Danish tea cakes, or cinnamon apple turnovers. One of the last old-guard Niseis (second-generation Japanese Americans), George was a survivor of the Depression and Japanese internment camps of World War II, a loving husband, and a father of four, and a civic and youth leader. George Izumi was a simple man who made a lasting impression on Los Angeles and the lives – and taste buds – of many of its residents.
George grew up in Santa Monica and West LA’s Sawtelle neighborhood on his parents’ flower and vegetable farm. He graduated from University High School in 1939, where he played on the basketball team and took his first cooking class. During World War II, he and his family were sent to Manzanar Relocation Camp in Owens Valley, CA where he worked in the mess hall setting up the kitchen and cleaning up after the cooks. From there, the Army sent him to baking school; George got his first sweet taste of success when a high-ranking officer commented that his lemon meringue pie was the best he’d ever had.
George gained his nickname while playing basketball in high school. He hurt his leg on a play, and a team member started calling him Gimp. Professionally, he was George, but to his family and close friends, he will always be Gimper, the man who loved Judge Judy, Englebert Humperdinck, white rice mixed with milk and Sweet‘n Low, and used chopsticks to eat salad and drink soup.
After the war, George went to baking school at LA Trade Tech, working in various neighborhood bakeries, as well as for a local florist. He met Grace Kato while delivering flowers to a house in Beverly Hills, where she worked as a nanny; they married in Los Angeles in 1949. They borrowed enough money to open up George’s own bakery in 1950; he named it after his loving wife, and the illustrious Grace Pastry Shoppe empire (later known as Grace Pastries) was born in the Jefferson/Crenshaw neighborhood of South LA.
George and Grace’s first child was Grayson, followed in succession by Glenda, Garret, and Genelle. For his kids, George’s roles as father and baker were intertwined: they’ll always remember him coming home from working in the bakery all day, still dressed in his baker whites, smelling sweetly of flour, sugar, and vanilla, holding an armful of freshly baked egg bread.
The National Association of Retail Bakers honored George’s pastries with dozens of awards in every baking category, but his real pride came from the products themselves. He worked hard to continually improve his recipes and was a harsh critic of mass-produced bakery goods. “Every donut tastes great right out of the oven,” he once sarcastically commented, when the Krispy Kreme frenzy hit Los Angeles.
An established businessman, George found time to be president of the Master Baker Retailers Association, the Westside Optimist Club, and was a dynamic community fundraiser for events benefitting the Yellow Brotherhood (a local Asian-American youth organization) and countless Los Angeles schools and churches. In 1973, he was appointed the Los Angeles Harbor Commissioner by Mayor Tom Bradley, who called upon him to help bridge and cultivate the trading gap between Los Angeles and Japan.
George decided to hang up his apron in 1989. After growing up in poverty, overcoming adversity and prejudice, and moving up the ranks from pot scrubber to master baker, growing his business from South Los Angeles to Gardena, Monterey Park, and multiple points in-between, he earned his retirement. He kept busy by puttering in his Japanese garden, taking domestic and international vacations with Grace, and his weekly golf games with a group of steadfast friends. Plus, a little gambling fun: blackjack and craps tournaments in Las Vegas and playing the ponies at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.
He will always be missed by son Grayson and his wife Carolina, daughter Glenda, son Garret and his wife Melissa, daughter Genelle, the grandchildren (Deric, Zumi, Stuart, Natalie, Claire, and Grayson, Jr., Koji), great-grandson Miro, younger brother Nobuo and his wife Romelia , and countless relatives and friends who have had the pleasure to have known him, loved him, baked with him, argued with him, or golfed with him.
A visitation will be held at Fukui Mortuary in Los Angeles on August 13, 2020, from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. The family respectfully requests that no flowers or koden be sent. If you would like to honor George, please make a donation to the Manzanar National Historic Site (https://www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm).
Gochisousama-deshita, George, Gimper, Dad, Uncle, Grandpa.
For those who would like to attend virtually, the visitation will be streamed at https://vimeo.com/445349477/9c24303180.