A Brief History of Moshi Moshi

It was 1962 and the San Francisco Giants were head-to-head with the New York Yankees in a then-record breaking World Series: they played thirteen games.   A young Mitsuru “Mits” Akashi was working as a draftsman by day and hanging out at Nikko Sukiyaki on Pine and Van Ness in San Francisco by night.  Nikko Sukiyaki was one of San Francisco’s posh sukiyaki-style restaurants with a piano bar, a banquet hall, fireplaces, and tatami rooms with kotatsu seating.  Nikko catered to San Francisco locals and San Francisco tourists in an effort to bring a Japanese style to the Americans and visiting foreigners. It was also in 1962 when, the longtime bar patron of Nikko Sukiyaki restaurant, approached the general manager, Frank Dobashi, with a proposition. He would work the bar for free in return for the chance to learn bartending.

Mits’ training continued through the late 1964 when he was presented with an opportunity to bartend at the Miyako in Oakland. By 1974, Nikko Sukiyaki was slowly losing patrons to a newer wave of Japanese restaurants in the city. That very year, Mits and a few other drinking buddies pulled together to buy the floundering Nikko restaurant. Mits’ recalls how the sushi bars in San Francisco, like Sanpei and Osho, were catering to primarily Japanese clientele. In response, the new owners replaced the outdated piano bar and opened one of the first high-profile sushi bars in San Francisco at Nikko.

Mits fondly recalls some of the Oakland Raiders of the day coming into Nikko for sushi; players like Clarence Davis, Kenny King, Jack Tatum, and Raymond Chester. Mits used to bet sushi dinners on the 49’ers games with those Raiders – and he lost “quite a bit”! After a while he asked the Raiders if they could bring Ronnie Lott to Nikko. He has warm memories of Lott and Montana and the ascendance of the 49’ers in the early 80s.

By 1985 Mits had decided to partner with Chio Tadanori, Master Chef with the credentials to perform hochoshiki.  They created Akinai, a new business venture. Mits and Chio wanted to find the next new wave, which led them farther away from the Van Ness corridor, south of South of Market, but before the names Mission Bay and “Historic Dogpatch” were coined. They found a sleepy chowder bar called The Barnacle on the corner of 18th and 3rd.  Moshi Moshi was established there in 1987.

This was a time of considerable expansion for Akinai, as House of Teriyaki, Yum-Yum Fish, American Chow, and Nikko Fish Company all opened. Unfortunately, the lease on Nikko was lost and that much-loved restaurant had to shut its doors forever.

Mits doesn’t talk much about the 18 years between Nikko closing and the Moshi Moshi renaissance of 2006. You’ll hear some fond musings about softball at the waterfront and the ladies from Pastiche brightening the restaurant with their smiles, but also hear a thing or two about earthquakes, light-rail construction, and mortgages. During those years, Akinai sold-off all of the companies, and Mits became the sole owner of Moshi Moshi.

In 2006, under new management, Mits got the help he needed to realize his dream of Nihon-centric Cuisine with finely crafted cocktails. He often expounds about the wafu of Moshi Moshi and what it means to offer his heart to the patrons. Wafu is not just Japanese style but the way that Moshi reflects the amalgamation of the employees’ personalities and the essence of simple Japanese style back at the patrons. He is not concerned with authentic Japanese cuisine, but focused on how the employees and their heritage and passions influence the Japanese style and cuisine at Moshi Moshi. This is the new-wafu.

Thus continues the story of Mits and Moshi Moshi as they ride the next new wave in the ever-changing San Francisco.

Arigato, SF!

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