This year hasn't been kind to Sachi Nakato Takahara or her families — the family connected by blood and the family formed at Nakato Japanese Restaurant, which her parents and grandmother opened nearly 50 years ago.
The first setback occurred Jan. 1, when Sachi's father, Kiyoshi Takahara Nakato, died at 69. In February, Sachi's daughter, Naomi, 12, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
“And, now, this COVID thing,” said Sachi, who manages day-to-day operations at the family business.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced her to make many tough decisions regarding the restaurant on Cheshire Bridge Road.
Nakato transitioned to carryout-only in mid-March, but Sachi shut it down after three weeks. She said they decided to close “while the peak was getting higher, and for me to gather more information about what kind of procedures to put in place. There’s a huge learning curve. We aren’t medical workers; we’re in the hospitality industry.”
With service on pause, she hired a company to clean every square inch of the restaurant, including taking apart machines, changing filters and misting alcohol to sanitize anything airborne.
The restaurant’s 60 employees were told to stay at home, but were paid one month’s wages. “This is the least I can do,” Sachi said. “They are practically my second family.”
When she decided to resume takeout and delivery service May 1, she had to make a difficult choice about which employees to bring back. That was especially nerve-wracking at a restaurant with low staff turnover. “Who to furlough and who to keep — how do you make a decision like that?”
Georgia restaurants now are permitted to offer on-premises dining. Sachi isn’t ready. Her 76-year-old mother, Hiroe, lives with her, and daughter Naomi is undergoing chemotherapy. Juggling family responsibilities, and ensuring the safety of her employees and customers is too much, she said. “In any crisis mode, you want the owner to be present and 100% there.”
When will Nakato reopen for dine-in? She doesn’t know yet. “Hearing what my guests say, what my staff is saying and feeling, I’ll be able to hone in on when I should open back up,” she said.
Luckily, she thinks she can weather the storm. “We were thinking of a renovation, so we squirreled away funding. We are able to manage as is until … we can invite people back into our restaurant.”
In the meantime, she and her staff of 20 will keep rolling sushi and preparing rice bowls for folks to enjoy at home. “The first day back, I saw so many regulars. It was very touching,” she said, calling the community support during this crisis “the silver lining.”
As with all the other unexpected challenges that 2020 has presented, she said, “We’ll get through it a day at a time.”
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NAKATO JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Menu: majority of regular menu is available.
What's new: wide selection of family meals that serve four people, including rice bowl family meals ($60), sushi meals ($160) and premium sushi meals ($240); daily lunch special ($15) with choice of two rice bowls and miso soup
Alcohol: beer (including Japanese beer flight), wine and sake
What I ordered: don buri rice bowl family meal; Japanese beer flight, sho chiku bai ginjo. A rice bowl meal lets you choose four of six bowls, and also comes with a seafood roll, spicy tuna roll, fried shumai, edamame, fried rice and a quart of miso soup. It's a fairly priced, substantive meal. The battered fried veggies and shrimp in the tempura bowl traveled well. The chicken oyako-don, curry katsu and chicken katsu don all were filling, but I'd have preferred to have other choices beyond chicken. The rolls were prettily and tidily boxed with the steamed edamame and nubby shumai. The tuna roll underwhelmed in its spice. The seafood roll, filled with shrimp, smoked salmon, crabstick, Japanese aioli and avocado, was the first to get gobbled up. Rounding it out with chilled bottles of Sapporo and Kirin Ichiban beer and smooth, fruity ginjo sake elevated this takeout meal into a finer dining moment.
Service options: curbside pickup; third-party delivery; order on Nakato website.
Safety protocols: follows standard CDC protocols; contact-free transactions. The restaurant has been thoroughly cleaned and sanitized. All employees have undergone a special training class.
Address, phone: 1776 Cheshire Bridge Road, Atlanta, 404-873-6582
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. daily
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