No Firm Date for Kamakura Reopening
Faith Yamato and son Wayne hope it will be soon, but city approval for engineering and electrical work are still in the works more than a year after fire gutted the restaurant.
Photo by D. Ross Cameron
A visit to Kamakura usually started on the bench just inside the front window, where you could cozy up to a giant teddy bear and wait for Akiko “Faith” Yamato, the nonagenarian owner, to greet you. You would compliment her outfit, which was sure to be glittering, and if it was someone’s birthday, you would tell her the details so she could make out one of her hand-lettered cards while you sat at one of the neat tables and ate.
Now, more than a year after the restaurant was gutted by fire, the bench is gone, the stuffed bears are gone — as are the tables and pretty much everything else that had been inside the building. But Faith endures, literally: The owner has been spotted on Park Street, dressed to the nines. Also, figuratively: On a recent jaunt, Yamato told one of her admirers, “Kamakura will reopen soon.”
But how soon is soon? Not as soon as regulars might hope. At the end of 2017, Wayne Yamato, Faith’s son, was feeling upbeat that reconstruction might begin imminently on the building at 2549 Santa Clara Ave., where nothing has happened since the initial fire cleanup. He had just learned that the building’s owner, the Thompson Family Trust, was making progress on securing the permit needed to repair the building and bring it up to current codes. But then Yamato found out that the engineering work required for the electrical portion of the permit has not yet been completed.
“So we’re looking at four to six months, maybe more,” Wayne Yamato said. “My mother is very sad to hear this, because our intention is to reopen and see all our customers again. It’s just frustrating.”
David Thompson, trustee for the Thompson Family Trust, also expects that construction can be finished within six months. He explained that the permitting process has been “incredibly difficult.”
“The city required a great deal of engineering,” in the form of details on how the building systems will be brought up to code, Thompson said. As of late January, his contractor was still working on satisfying all the requirements regarding a required upgrade of the electrical system. They have also needed to coordinate with Alameda Municipal Power, Thompson said.
City officials said they haven’t been unusually tough during the process. Building official Greg McFann shared the city’s comments on the August permit application, which called for a clarification of the project cost, details on accessibility improvements, a reconfiguration of the entrance doors, restroom fixture layout, and approval from AMP on electrical setup.
McFann called the city’s comments “nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that should have held them up since September.”
“This is a pretty short list with no indication of substantial engineering work required,” he said.
AMP, for its part, said it has corresponded with the electrical contractor about general requirements but hasn’t yet received a permit to review.
Wayne Yamato said that, once the landlord brings the building back to its original condition, it will take about two months for Kamakura to set up the interior.
“We have to just paint, maybe put new floors in there, construct our sushi bar, and get the appliances, get the health department to sign off,” he said. What caused the fire remains a mystery, and the damage was estimated at $500,000 or more, Yamato said.
Given all the delays he’s seen so far, Yamato called an end-of-summer opening “wishful.”
“I hope it happens. There are just so many things that can come up in the process. It’s out of our hands. We can only pray at this point,” he said.
For now, the building stands quiet, a large hole in the roof covered by a tarp. A sign on the window calls the building “UNSAFE TO OCCUPY” and notes that it was inspected by the city on Jan. 13, 2017 — the day of the fire.
Faith, who turns 94 on March 18, is keeping her spirits up, Yamato said.
“My sister or I take my mother out every day somewhere in the city for lunch or dinner, and we always run into customers,” he said. “She very much looks forward to our grand reopening.”
Customers and neighboring businesses have been supportive. A GoFundMe campaign started by the owners of Whales & Friends gift store has raised more than $12,000 to help with expenses not covered by insurance. The money was given to employees, Yamato said.
Yamato is hopeful that staffers, some of whom are working at Angel Fish, will return once Kamakura reopens. “They’re a pretty loyal group. I made a point to stay in touch with everybody and keep them informed,” he said.
In fact, the erstwhile Kamakura staff recently gathered for a meal to mark the first anniversary of the fire. Yamato tries to muster the group regularly, so they can see one another and see Faith, who took over the restaurant in 1983 and who was an indefatigable presence there, singing “Happy Birthday” to customers every night and even laundering and ironing the table linens.
“As long as they see her, they know there’s hope that Kamakura will come back,” Yamato said.