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Monday, January 12, 2009

In Memoriam: Ryosuke Yoshioka, the Sushi Man of San Francisco

Updated 23 January 2010
Originally posted 12 January 2009

Welcome to our memorial page for Ryosuke Yoshioka, the Sushi Man of San Francisco. If you have an anecdote, story, or remembrance of Ryo, feel free to leave a comment and share it with us!

Ryosuke Yoshioka, Chef-Owner of Sushi-Man Restaurant in San Francisco

Ryosuke Yoshioka (1950 - 2009), Chef-Owner of Sushi-Man Restaurant in San Francisco

I was chatting with a friend the other day when she asked me if I had heard that the owner of Sushi-Man Restaurant in San Francisco was stabbed to death. No, I hadn't. I quickly searched Google and found the article on the San Francisco Chronicle's website about the killing. Needless to say, I was shocked, dismayed, and downright sad to hear the news.

Taking a Chance, Making a Friend

I remember the first time we met "Ryo". I had brought Annie and Daniel up to San Francisco to watch the 4th of July Fireworks from the Marina. I also wanted to have some good sushi while we were up in the City.

We had recently been turned on to high quality sushi after many years of so-so California rolls and cheap sushi boat sushi. I found a few names of sushi places in the Yellow Pages but when I called them, I found they were all closed for the Independence Day holiday.

Searching online, Annie found the reviews of Sushi-Man sounded good. I was dubious (I mean, with a name like "Sushi-Man", doesn't that make you think of cheap sushi boat-type places?). But I figured, why not give it a try, since all the other places were closed. When we drove by the storefront on Bush St., we spotted a middle-aged Japanese man out front sweeping up and watering the plants.

"Are you open today?" we called out from the car.

"Sure, come back at 5:30," he said.

It turns out that the man was none other than Ryo, the chef. We sat at the left side of the bar, in the corner where we could leave Daniel in his stroller (he was about 4 months old at the time). After perusing the menu, we ordered the sushi dinner for two (pictured above).

Since we were the only customers there at the time, we had his full attention. So we struck up a conversation with him. Being neophytes to high-quality sushi, we had a lot of questions about the proper way to eat sushi. Ryo answered them with patience, candor and humor.

Nothing Compares to Ryo

That positive experience left a lasting impression on both of us. The sushi itself was good (albeit on the expensive side), but it was the conversation, the relationship we struck up with Ryo that made us want to come back.

We tried out other sushi places in San Jose, but they were all lacking. Both in quality of fish and in quality of service. Nothing else compared to Sushi-Man.

Giving Us His Best

So, we went back. And instead of ordering from the set menu, we told him to just give us the best. He took care of the rest. What a difference it was!

Now Ryo had free reign to showcase his sushi. We weren't served just the normal salmon or tuna. Ryo introduced sanma (pike mackerel) to us. It is a seasonal fish, flown in from Japan only in Autumn. Sanma has a nice flavor, just slightly bitter but not off-putting like normal mackerel. It is now one of our favorite fishes.

Ryo would also serve us different things besides fish like mirugai - fresh geoduck clam.

"Watch this!" he said, then slapped the hunk of clam neck flesh in his hand. The flesh contracted and curled on its own. "See? The flesh is still moving. It's very fresh. Now look at this." He took another hunk of clam from his refrigerator and slapped it. No movement. "This clam is dead. No good. I will only serve you the fresh clam."

Mirugai (Geoduck Clam) Nigiri from Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Mirugai (Geoduck Clam) Nigiri from Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

We also got a pair of amaebi (sweet freshwater shrimp). These shrimp are incredibly sweet and succulent. Ryo even deep fried the shrimp heads for us - so crispy and savory! A perfect counterpoint to the nigiri.

Amaebi (Sweet Freshwater Shrimp) Nigiri from Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Amaebi (Sweet Freshwater Shrimp) Nigiri from Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Becoming Real Fans

We became real fans of Ryo the Sushi Man. He gave us amazing food but beyond that, he was kind and generous. He always treated us special.

Like the one time we arrived and there were people sitting in "our corner". He actually asked if the people wouldn't mind moving one seat over so that there would be enough room for us to squeeze in. Or the time he comped us a glass of unfiltered, premium sake, just because it was my birthday.

Premium Unfiltered Sake at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Premium Unfiltered Sake at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Eating at Sushi-Man was not cheap. We were getting the best quality food, and paying for it. We couldn't afford to do Sushi-Man on a monthly basis. But we resolved that, whenever we had a craving for sushi, we'd set that money aside into a special "Sushi-Man" kitty until we had enough to afford a dinner there.

Eating at Sushi-Man was not quick, either. When we went there and told Ryo, "omakase" (meaning, we trust you), the experience would be at least a 3 hour affair, if not longer. First, he'd set us up with appetizers like ankimo (monk fish liver - like a fishy pâté), soft-shell crab, or even shiokara (squid marinated in its own innards - not for the faint of heart!)

Ankimo (top left), Soft-Shell Crab (right), and Shiokara (bottom left) at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

IMG_2085

After the appetizers, it would be a methodical procession of sushi, a pair at a time, with long breaks in between to enjoy the food and also enjoy the conversation with Ryo and the other customers at the bar. There was real camaraderie at Sushi-Man's sushi bar.

A Little Bit About Ryo the Sushi Man

Ryo originally came from Kobe, Japan where he trained as a sushi chef. His restaurant, Sushi-Man, is one of the oldest sushi restaurants in San Francisco. He was there before sushi became such a big thing in America. But he didn't like to do the typical fancy roll sushi like Caterpillar Rolls or Dragon Rolls. He'd do rolls because the customers would ask for them but his real passion was for quality, traditional sushi.

He'd been in the business for a long time. Things kinda slowed down for him when a strip club opened up next door. Somehow the restaurant managed to survive through all its ups and downs. He was looking forward to retiring one day so he could golf more. But since he married late in life and his son (now 15) was still in school, he didn't know when he might quit. We (selfishly) hoped he would remain as long as he could.

Going Back for More

Of course, we talked about him a lot whenever the subject of sushi came up amongst our friends. We brought several of them with us on different dates. On one of those dates, our friend's wife said she couldn't eat fish, thus springing the surprise announcement that she was pregnant! So for her, Ryo fixed a special marinated cucumber and shrimp salad.

Marinated Cucumber and Shrimp Salad at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Marinated Cucumber and Shrimp Salad at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Another time, we were visiting with my sister for dinner in San Francisco. After we said our goodbyes, we decided on a whim to stop in at Sushi-Man to see Ryo and get some dessert. He always served the best green tea ice cream. We all loved it, including Esther.

Esther Eating Green Tea Ice Cream at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Esther Eating Green Tea Ice Cream at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Ryo really loved our kids. Many times he'd come around the counter to sit and play with Daniel and Esther. He wasn't just the sushi chef anymore -- he had become "Uncle Ryo".

The Last Visit

The last time we were there was in October 2006, for our anniversary. We made reservations and told Ryo specifically what the occasion was. Here is the sashimi platter he made for us. Not only did he have our favorite fish, sanma, as part of the platter, he also used the fish head and spine to make a beautiful presentation.

Sanma Sashimi Platter at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Sanma Sashimi Platter at Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

We haven't been back to Sushi-Man since. We wanted to eat sushi more than once a year, and a little closer to home so we started going to Akane in Los Altos. The prices were more affordable there and the quality was still very good. But there was no connection between us and Shu-san or Shin-san like we had with Ryo. It seemed as though Ryo was our first love, and we were cheating on him by going to other sushi bars.

Annie and I were just talking about going to see Ryo in February for her birthday. It would be the perfect opportunity and I was already thinking of what other adventurous friends we could invite to join us. And then we come to find out this tragic news.

Thank You, Ryo

Ryosuke Yoshioka's life was ended much too early. Our hearts go out to his wife and son. We, along with all his other loyal fans, will mourn his death. I do not know whether Sushi-Man the restaurant will remain in business. But Ryo the Sushi Man will always live in our memories and our hearts.

For all the good food and good times, Doomo arigato, Ryo. You will be missed!

Aloha, Nate and Annie

Annie, Nate, Ryo and Daniel in front of Sushi-Man (San Francisco)

Annie, Nate, Ryo and Daniel in front of Sushi-Man (San Francisco)


Edit: Ginger, a frequent customer and friend of Ryo's in the 80’s (she even made the wedding cake for Ryo and his wife Miyuki) sent along the following note:

Hi Nate... I wanted to write something about Ryo, but, I'm still so shocked by this whole thing and I just can't think straight yet. This first photo was at their apartment after their wedding. Actually, it was the party at their place, which was after the party at the restaurant, which was the party after the wedding! It was such a fun night and went well into the morning. That's me, under the sumo mask. I just love this pic.

afterwedding

The second photo was my birthday party at the restaurant in June, 1987. I'm the one on Ryo's left. Once again, another fun evening. The other people are my sister (on Ryo's right) & her husband, my husband (big moustache) my parents, my mother-in-law, my brother & his wife and two friends of my parent's from Reno.

birthdayparty


If you have a picture of Ryo that you would be willing to share, click the link to Contact Us.

32 Comments:

Selba said...

Sorry to hear the bad news.

I'm not so sure whether most people who like to eat in Japanese restaurant in Jakarta for sushi, have a favourite master of sushi because we usually are more connected to the restaurant than to the chef.

Tanya said...

It saddens me when I hear about things like this happening to good people. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend and sushi master.

I don't have a favorite sushi place, mainly because my husband won't eat sushi. So yeah, I have to eat the cheaper sushi. :(

Chef Ben said...

What sad and horrible news about this senseless act. I've never heard of Sushi-Man but sounded like a place I totally would have enjoyed. It was nice reading your tribute to Ryo-san. I think it speaks volumes that an owner/chef was able to touch you in such a way with his food and personality. I wish there were more chefs like that.

Anonymous said...

I forwarded your touching article about my neighbor Roy (I live on Bush St.)to my Australian friends who were also moved. My friend Paul of Perth is wearing his Sushi-Man t-shirt today. Bush Street neighbors are devasted by this horrible tragedy. Thank you for your tribute to Roy and his restaurant.

Cate said...

What a shame... I'm so sorry to hear that. Sounds like you were lucky to know such a special man.

_ts of [eatingclub] vancouver said...

OMG. So senseless.

A wonderful tribute, Nate & Annie.

Naomi said...

I've known Mr. Yoshioka (that's what I've always called him) since I was in high school. I'm in my 50's now. He used to be the cook at my mother's restaurant in Japantown in the 70's. We've seen him every year or so since then. He still called my mother every few months to keep in touch. We're devastated and he'll be missed.

bob said...

I am thankful for your posting. I just heard about this an hour ago and I've was looking for information.
I count Ryo as a friend who taught me to love sushi. But sushi became a secondary to sharing stories and talking with him. To spend time with Ryo was something I always looked forward to.
His impact and smile will always be remembered.


Bob

Ravey Gravy said...

I am more than heartbroken. There are not words for this.

Ryo is a friend, a true friend. He was my mentor about how to take it easy in life. This is more than sad.
Ryo and his wife, Miyuki, and his son, were like family. That's what it felt like every time I visited his restaurant.
I live one block up the hill from Sushi Man. And, I've been a regular for 7 years.
I sit here in shock...the man with the lightest heart, who always made me laugh, and who shared so much life wisdom -- this makes no sense.

My mind is flooded with memories of Ryo and his family. His kindhearted manner and generosity are impossible to describe.

MiNDY said...

sorry for the bad news.

Carolyn Jung said...

I never had the pleasure of experiencing the art of sushi as practiced so sublimely by the Sushi Man. He truly sounds like he was gifted, and generous in heart and spirit. What a horrible, tragic end for a man who seemed so gentle and kind.

The TriniGourmet said...

What a beautifully written tribute. He sounded like he had a passion just just for his craft, but for life itself... I will never understand such senseless tragedies :(

Nate-n-Annie said...

@all - thank you for your comments. They are really apreciated. Please keep them coming. Your sharing is cathartic!

BTW, if anyone knows when is Ryo's funeral (if that is public information), could you tell me?

@Tanya - sushi of the freshest quality is a beautiful thing. I hope your husband one day will change his mind.

@Chef Ben - Chefs like Ryo are a rare breed, indeed.

@Anonymous - can you tell me more about your experiences eating at Sushi-Man?

@Naomi - what was your mother's restaurant? Did he work anywhere else before starting Sushi-Man?

@Bob - I agree completely.

@Ravey Gravey - Do you have a story or an anectdote you'd like to share?

Nancy said...

Thank you for posting this. Ryo had a way of making everyone feel as though they were his friends. And indeed, I believe they were. His death is tragic. It is a profound and senseless loss for his wonderful family. Ryo was not only a talented sushi master, but an intelligent, witty, honest and earnest man. He had an excellent memory, not just for the food, but for faces and people. He was devoted and generous. His death is a loss for the entire community. If you are able to afford a donation to the family, please do. I am certain if the loss of Ryo means this much to me, a patron of Sushi Man, then his family, a lovely wife and dear 15 year old son, is devastated. At this point I know of no plans for a memorial, if there is one, will you please post it? Thank you.
Ryosuke Yoshioka Memorial Fund, Account No. 2119185011, Wells Fargo Bank, 2055 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123.

Cheese, Cake, Cupcake, Chocolate, Cinnamon, Claire, Clementine, Cookies and Cream said...

Hi! Nice pictures.. Its not wasy to take pics of savoury food... But good job! And I'm so sorry to hear that... Japanese are really kind people and its really sad to find out such things actually happened to them.. I hope whoever was the culprit gets his deserved punishing...

Greg and Kris said...

Breaks our hearts. We met the Sushi Man on the day we got engaged to be married and traveled from Portland to San Francisco a few times to share a meal with him after.

So sad and incomprehensible, still.

AW said...

Nate-n-Annie...Thank you for this wonderfully and beautifully written tribute. The Yoshioka Family are dear family friends of my husband and I. I appreciate all the pictures and wonderful words. It brought back lots of memeories. His food was great; his golf game and tips were on par; and his sense of humor was even better. Thank you... again.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Jan 17th at 2pm at the Sokoji Church on Laguana & Sutter.

A memorial fund has been set up for the Yoshioka Family. If you would like to make a contribution:
Ryosuke Yoshioka Memorial Fund, Account No. 2119185011, Wells Fargo Bank, 2055 Chestnut St., San Francisco, CA 94123.

Nate-n-Annie said...

@Nancy - thank you so much for your kind words.

@Greg and Kris - thanks for sharing your story!

@AW - do itashi mashite. And thank you for telling us about when his service is. I don't know if we'll be able to make it up there, but we'll be there in spirit.

Marielle Neri said...

I've been to Sushi-Man on several occasions - the food was divine, but it was Ryo who made the place truly special. He was a gifted sushi chef, and just an absolute joy to be around. His stories ranged from hilarious [how DO you eat a chicken leg while attending a traditional Chinese dinner?] to heartwarming [his wife and children meant he world to him] to inspirational [lots of life lessons].

He loved life: his business, his staff, his family, everyone who came to his restaurant - and it showed in all he did. A man like Ryo does not come along very often, and I count myself lucky for the opportunity to spend time with him. My thoughts are with his family and everyone who was close to him.

Ravey Gravy said...

Nate and Annie,

I loved Ryo in the same way your family did. I used to go to his restaurant once a month. In fact, today, during his memorial service, several other of Ryo's family (of regulars/customers) shared their stories. And, the Master of Ceremony, Mike Kavanaugh, shared how he used to bring his dates to Ryo...for exactly the same reason I did...to have Ryo give the nod of approval (or not =)!) Ryo ALWAYS made me laugh...he used to tell me to have 10 boyfriends...until I find the one. I always went by his restaurant because, having moved here from NY, it was the first place in the city that I found a true atmosphere of my neighborhood spot --where you are true friends with the owners and it feels more like a 2nd home than going to a restaurant.
I remember going to Ryo's one night just after having the end of a stomach flu. I told Ryo that I was fighting it and he went back into the kitchen, and came out with a hot mug full of a concoction of love -- boiled ginger root, lemon, and honey. I wanted to cry. His heart was as the buddhist monk described today -- full of compassion and kindness -- the two key elements to living a happy joyful life. Ryo effervesced with this joy, a sincerity, a deep warmth. He was love incarnate.

When I first met Ryo, I shared with him how I had grown up with my uncle Fumi, a Japanese man that married my aunt and was my uncle. There was a sense of kindred spirit...he reminded me of my uncle. And, I remember, whenever I would finish eating, he invariably served the chilled martini glass with green tea ice cream...even if I proclaimed I was on a diet =). But, more than this, he did some things that were so heartwarming...that made me feel "a part of"...when his friends were in from Japan, he always introduced me and we would chat for hours, and he would always serve me whatever special dessert he prepared for them.
There isn't enough I can say about Ryo...other than, he is love, he is loved, and he will live forever in our hearts.
-Tania (Nob Hill Resident -- 1 Block up on Pine & Powell)

Isami said...

Dear Nate and Annie,

What a beautiful tribute for Ryo-san! I believe I met you at Sushi-man in Oct 2006. I'm the person from Hawaii who attends the Cal football games and always had my dinner at Ryo's. I read the news about his tragic death this morning and share your sentiments about him, although I can't express them as eloquently as you did. I have fond memories of Ryo-san since I first started going there in 1999 and of the people I met there. May Miyuki-san and their son be comforted knowing that Ryo-san touched the lives of so many people all over the world.

Nate-n-Annie said...

@Marielle - thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Ryo was really one-of-a-kind, and much loved.

@Ravey Gravey - What a beautiful story! I wish I could have been there at the service to hear all of the "family's" stories.

@Isami - Yes, I remember meeting you! Thank you for your words. I wish we could all have shared more time together, with Ryo serving up his excellent sushi.

Anonymous said...

This posting has been greatly appreciated. It was even printed & posted up at Sushi-Man restaurant yesterday for the gathering after the memorial service.

The service yesterday was a beautiful tribute, and the crowds were overflowing out into the street. The grieving is still just beginning, but the healing is too. Thank you for all your kind words.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your beautiful memorial to Ryo.

We have not seen him since Sep 2008 and were looking forward to saying hello today. Upon our arrival at Sushi-Man, we were shocked to hear of Ryo's death almost two weeks ago.

My family and I live in Los Angeles, but have enjoyed his hospitality and excellent sushi for several years.

Our kids, 10 yrs and 6 yrs old, really bonded with him and are deeply saddened. Last September, Ryo gave our youngest, Alexis, one of his white cat statues (Good Luck Kitty). She treasures this token of Ryo's kindness and burst into tears as we stood outside his restaurant this afternoon.

We extend our deepest condolences to Ryo's wife and son, and pray for their comfort during this terrible time of loss.

Emiko, Hannes, Johannes and Alexis.

Nate-n-Annie said...

@Anonymous - I wish I could have been there for both the service and the gathering afterward. I would have been nice to meet all of you.

@Emiko - your story just breaks my heart. I really feel for your daughter Alexis.

Andrea said...

What a lovely tribute you wrote to Ryo and such wonderful memories you have of his sushi artistry. I can only imagine what it was like to enjoy his restaurant.

nick said...

Sushi Man was an amazing human being, always so happy and smiling. The first time I went out with my girlfriend we went to Sushi Man's, it became "our place"! We went back a few months later and again received nothing but the best in service and food. He came over and chatted with us for upwards of 45 minutes. He truly made us feel like we were at home. We will forever remember Sushi Man and his wonderful sushi.

dwix said...

I just learned of the terrible news today, May 6, 2009. I've been to Sushi Man many times but I was a regular when I moved to SF in the summer of 2003. I transferred jobs and my new employer put me up in a hotel on Bush St. and paid for everything (including meals) for two months. Thus, that summer I went to Sushi man all the time!--Hey my boss was footin the bill so I was going to eat the best food!!And the food was so great!! Sushi man was such a nice guy, and one of his waitresses became a really good friend! It turned into a helluva great summer--I'd meet my friend when she got done with work at Sushi Man and she'd bring me Sushi man food (most of it was actually her dinner), and then we'd go out. We saw the White Stripes in concert in Berkeley, we went to movies, to bars...it was fun. She has since moved back to Japan and I have since been stuck under a mountain of work. ...I was chatting with her today, I hadn't talked to her in months which happens when friends move away...I was telling her how much fun that summer had been and we were catching up and she gave me the news about Ryosuke Yoshioka--our beloved Sushi Man. I was shocked, I still am shocked, but now I'm just plain sad. What a terrible tragedy. God Bless you Ryosuke Yoshioka I pray your family will find the strength to make it through such a terrible time and I will always think of you, the wonderful food, and the fun I had summer 2003.

Su Ling said...

I actually use to work there at Sushi-man!

Sensei was a really hard worker and at times he would be really hard on us kitchen and wait staff but he had a passion for his food. We'd always end up eating after our work session and there were times when he'd be so tired he'd pass out from exhaustion. When that happens we'll lock everything up and carry him to the back.

You were right, he absolutely HATED doing the fancy ass rolls and anything that was not traditionally Japanese. I remember we had a customer who came in asking for Brown Rice and he felt so insulted telling her 'We only have high quality Japanese rice'

Did you know that all the fish you see in the glass cabinets at the sushi bar are taken away every night and stored at the back in a special freezer that only contained fish?? Unlike other sushi places where they leave the raw fishes in these glass cabinets with freezing attachments. Naturally I asked him why he did that and he yelled at me saying that integrity of the fish would be jeopardized!

That was how meticulous he was in preparing his food. He was a hard worker no doubt about it, there were times I was close to tears because of me screwing up in the kitchen or in the restaurant but despite everything he cared so much for us, feeding us every night and telling us good job.

He will be missed.

Cate said...

Mr. Yoshioka, or "Ryo" as he asked to be called, made every meal at Sushi Man feel like a special occasion. Whenever I entered, he would remember me and my son, and speak with great pride about his own boy. I will greatly miss seeing him, and joking with him over an excellent meal. My heart goes out to the family of this amazing individual.

Michael said...

I am sitting here in my office in Chicago weeping. I used to go to San Francisco 5-6 times a year on business and every trip I ate at least twice a week at Sushi man. Ryo was the kind of chef where I would sit in front of and tell him to serve me whatever he pleased. We would have long talks about family, food and life and I would always feel happy walking back to my hotel after being with him. My picture was on his board and my son still wears his Sushi man t-shirt. I have not been back to SF for 4 years. MY wife,son and I are taking a trip out there the end of December and I just googled Sushi Man to make sure he was still open. Thats when I read the sad news. May Ryo's memory serve as a blessing. Do you know if there is a memorial fund for his family ? Please e-mail me if so at flashstar@mindspring.com

Thanks for the tribute to him,
Michael

Anonymous said...

I'm back in SFO after one year. One of the first things I wanted to do today, my second day in town, was to go back to Sushi Man and get another of those unforgettable spicy tuna and to enjoy again that perfect not-too-sweet green tea ice-cream.
I have found the shop replaced by another one. Depression. "Maybe it did not survive the crisis", I thought at first. "Maybe he retired" my girlfriend suggested. And then Google revealed me the tragedy. Damn, I ate there on the 1st Jan 2009, only a few days before that psycho killed him. Too bad, what a shame. All my support to the family. I didn't know him as a person, but he seemed a very nice man and his sushi was really from another planet, surely one of the best of the many I have tried during the last 5 years.

Andrea Lani