HomeJapanese AmericanLost KinjoLittle Tokyo community protests gentrification as Suehiro Cafe closes

Little Tokyo community protests gentrification as Suehiro Cafe closes

By Kiyomi Casey

Protestors are demanding an end to the evictions of long-standing businesses in Los Angeles’s Little Tokyo. 

On Jan. 16, community members gathered outside Suehiro Cafe, whose Little Tokyo location closed for business on Jan. 9, to express outrage at the loss of an over 50-year-old fixture of the community. 

Suehiro’s new downtown Los Angeles location opened in September as the cafe’s owner, Kenji Suzuki, prepared for the eviction, the LAist reports. After a months-long battle in court with landlord Anthony Sperl, who filed the eviction notice in April 2023 according to the Los Angeles Times, Suehiro announced in December that it would be vacating its Little Tokyo location on Jan. 16.

Community members have expressed concern that Sperl is planning to replace the face with a marijuana dispensary after Suzuki discovered that the landlord had filed paperwork for a marijuana dispensary license at Suehiro’s former address, according to CBS News. Organizations including Jtown Action, Japanese American Citizens League, and Save Our Seniors Network organized a rally on Dec. 10 in protest of Suehrio’s eviction.

Sperl has not responded to their boycott pledge, and they are now urging those who signed to enact it. Protesters at the Jan. 16 rally held up signs that read “Save Little Tokyo” and “Boycott Tony Sperl’s dispensary.”

“What we’re building here is a united front against gentrification,” said Zen Sekizawa, an organizer with JTown Action, at the rally.

“[Suehiro is] the small business where people really interacted with you and made you feel special,” said protestor Martha Escudero to AsAmNews. “Little Tokyo should stay with Japanese culture. That’s why people come here—to experience the culture and the community.”

Suzuki said that he aims to protect the remaining businesses that helped build Little Tokyo and asked supporters outside his former restaurant to continue fighting for the Little Tokyo community. Another long-standing business, Little Tokyo Arts & Gifts, received an eviction notice in December, according to Rafu Shimpo. “The real battle here isn’t about us,” said Suzuki.

“The one thing that made this place special is the people,” he added. “We’re gone, but we will be back.”

Little Tokyo in Los Angeles is one of just three surviving Japanese American neighborhoods in the country. The others are Nihonmachi or Japantown in San Francisco and Japantown in San Jose, California. After World War II, more than 40 Japanese American neighborhoods disappeared. You can read more about this history in our series Lost Kinjo.

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