Fuji Ya has closed after 61 years of serving Japanese cuisine and sushi in the Twin Cities. The Lake Street location was damaged during the Minneapolis unrest and did not reopen. Now, a bank-owned sign is parked in the parking lot.
A woman-run Japanese restaurant in the middle of Minnesota in 1959 seemed like an improbable business idea. The country was only 13 years removed from the closure of the World War II era Japanese internment camps. And advertisements of the age suggested that a woman’s greatest accomplish was a new kitchen appliance. Yet, that was what Reiko Weston did.
Fuji Ya began in a converted garage at 814 LaSalle Avenue South as the first restaurant to serve that cuisine. Later, the business moved to a site that was an abandoned flour mill at the edge of downtown Minneapolis, overlooking the Mississippi River. The eatery became a sensation, and the location a landmark for city residents. Designed by architect Newton Griffin, based upon a plan by Shinichi Okada, the mid-century design was flanked by glass windows overlooking the river.
From there, Weston went on to open four more restaurants, collect accolades, and blaze trails, including introducing Teppinyaki in the 70s and a sushi bar in 1981. She bought up land near the riverside restaurant with the plans to develop into a Japanese hotel and retail attraction, but the Minneapolis Park Board declared imminent domain in 1987 and claimed that land. It was one in a series of setbacks Weston faced. She died from a heart attack in 1988. The restaurant made it to 1990 before closing.
For several years the stories of Fuji Ya were all that remained, until Weston’s daughter, Carol Weston Hanson, took up the mantle. Hanson, who’s parents had divorced when she was a small child, has said that time with her mother was time at the restaurant. When Weston suffered a stroke in 1978, Hanson would accompany her mother on cooking demonstrations at Daytons, speaking for her as she cooked.
In 1997 Hanson revived the business in a new location at 27th and Lyndale along with her husband Tom. From there it moved its final location at 600 West Lake Street. The Hansons sold the business and property to its current owner Synergy Property in 2014 for a reported $1.5 million according to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.
During the Minneapolis riots, the building sustained damage with smashed windows and graffiti. On May 7, the restaurant’s Facebook page announced a temporary closure. By May 30, the website message changed to a farewell message announcing the closure.
Correction: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect address for the original Fuji Ya location.