Densho Digital Repository
Friends of Manzanar Collection
Title: Grace Hata Interview
Narrator: Grace Hata
Interviewer: Martha Nakagawa
Location: West Los Angeles, California
Date: March 16, 2012
Densho ID: ddr-densho-1003-10-6

<Begin Segment 6>

MN: Now, let me go back to your restaurant business. In relationship to the restaurant, where did you live?

GH: We lived in the back of the restaurant.

MN: And you talked about this Chinese cook, Jack Kwan, where did he live?

GH: He lived in a room that was made into a room (at) the back of the garage.

MN: And then who were, mostly, your parents' customers?

GH: We had customers from all over. So regularly people who came, she had German, they were, I think she said that her husband used to be a blacksmith way in the olden times, and they lived in the neighborhood. They used to come a lot. And we had a lot of regular customers who came almost once a week, so we had all sorts of customers, all nationality.

MN: And then you talked about parties at your restaurant, so was there a special room that the parties were in?

GH: No. My father cleared out the regular set up that we had and brought in the big tables, benches and chairs, and he had to reorganize the whole restaurant for the banquet. And then we had to close down for the regular customers. But they were fairly frequent. We had big parties.

MN: Now, your restaurant is the Hata Chop Suey House. What kind of food was on the menu?

GH: They had chow mein, pakkai, duck, shrimp, most of the Chinese regular menu that you see even today. Our cook was, I think he was from Hong Kong, so it was more that type of cooking than, than... Cantonese cooking. And we had regular Japanese customers too that came almost every week. I remember Mr. Ishihara, Mr. Ishihara used to come once a week, I think, and he loved noodles. He'd eat this hot, he brings this hot pepper and puts hot pepper on it, and he would just sweat. For fifty cents he'd get a big bowl of udon and he would lambast my father up and down. He'd call him all kinds of names. [Laughs] And when he gets drunk, my mother didn't want to send him off drunk, so he'd be laying down on the couch in our back room with his dentures, both of 'em, out on his forehead. We'd come into the room and look at him and say, "Oh my god, his teeth are on his forehead." [Laughs] But we saw all sorts of people who behaved funny when they got drunk. There were singers, there were people who cried, people who got angry and who'd throw things around. So when we knew that that behavior was going to come on, Mother'd clear off the table and things. But we had many, many dishes and things broken, customers getting drunk and acting like that, but that was part of the business, I guess.

MN: Did your restaurant ever get robbed?

GH: We had times when, my mother, she had sixth sense and she would know. She'd say, "Papa, put away the money. Get the money out of the cash register." And sure enough, this one time they had, the guy came and ordered some things to go, and when it came time to pay for it (the customer) put out a big (bill) and my father had to open the register, and it was a holdup. And my mother said she thought something was wrong because she noticed that the car was parked off the curb. And so he took them into the bathroom, everywhere. My mother said, "This is all we have, so you can take what you want." (The robber) came back, but he couldn't get the money, so he got nervous and he left. So that was lucky nobody got hurt. But another time too, she said, "I know they're gonna steal something." And my father says, "Every time you see somebody you're distrusting them." And she said, "No, I think it's going to be done." Well, the next morning, as I was skating around the restaurant, I noticed that the sugar bowl, the sugar (was emptied out between) the compartments and the sugar (bowl was gone). And my mother said, "See? I told you." Somebody stole our goldfish from the aquarium. And my father said [scoffs]. But there was the sugar piled up, and so she says, "Americans are funny people, though." She says, "They'll come right back, even when they do things like that." So she said, to let them know she said, "So what did you do with my goldfish?" And he apparently told her that they fried it and ate it. But she said they're funny people because they come back. [Laughs] Yeah, my mother was really very intuitive, and she just knew things were gonna happen and it did.

MN: You have any idea where your mother hid that money when she was, she knew that they might rob the restaurant?

GH: Well, I think that she put it in the, we had a little cabinet in the bedroom and there were things just jam packed in there, so she probably (put it) in there. I'm not sure, but I think it may have gone in there.

MN: Now, your mother, what did, what was her responsibility at the restaurant?

GH: My mother did the cooking with Shinsan, and she did some of the things that she liked to do that would be different from the Chinese cooking, such as the shrimp. Mother used to cut it in a certain way and take that flat knife and slam it so the shrimp would be winged out. And then she'd put it through the batter so the fried shrimp were huge, and she would have the plate just full. So she would do that sort of cooking and decorating the dish, and Shinsan did all the main cooking.

MN: So what about your father? What did he do?

GH: He was a waiter. He would go get the order, and if it's the white people, "Chop suey, Chicago style." [Laughs] And if it's Japanese, then they know the noodles had to be cooked fried. And when he said Chicago style, that was when they had those noodles that were, not fried in the pan but deep fried, like they sell 'em in the cans here now. And then they put the chop suey on top. So yeah, he was the waiter and he did all the buying, so he had to go into Chinatown once a week to do all the buying of the Chinese food.

MN: How old were you when you started to help out?

GH: I don't know. I have pictures that look like maybe six or seven.

MN: And what did you do when you're so young like that?

GH: I just took out the napkins and the dishes that they'll be using, and the cookies, that sort of thing.

MN: Now, you have all these different nationalities in your restaurant. Were there any, like, cultural eating habits or misunderstandings between different nationalities?

GH: What was funny and they always talked about was when we had several Japanese coming in for noodles and we had one, we had two big tables in one end of the restaurant and then we had the smaller group compartments in the middle, and when we had several Japanese customers come in and order noodles they'll be soup, slurping, and the Americans on the other end of the partition will look over the partition and see what's going on. [Laughs] They thought that was strange. So my mother was always telling us, "Don't slurp. Don't slurp."

MN: Now, how many days a week was your parents' restaurant open?

GH: They were open seven days a week.

MN: What occasions did your parents close the restaurant and take a break?

GH: Only New Year's. They took a few days off and they went around to all their friends to wish them happy New Year and do their usual greetings.

MN: Did your mother get a break, or did she have to make the Oshogatsu no gochiso?

GH: She didn't make too much of those things. I don't have too much remembrance of that because we didn't eat very much of that, unless we went out to all the different homes.

MN: What about mochitsuki on New Year's?

GH: We didn't do that at home either, but we went to where they were doing it sometimes.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2012 Densho. All Rights Reserved.