Suehiro’s expulsion causes a stir in Little Tokyo, where an outdated corporate register is under construction

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Suehiro’s expulsion causes a stir in Little Tokyo, where an outdated corporate register is under construction

Homepage News, LA Politics

Frank Shyong

Dec. 13, 2023

The signs at Sunday’s demonstration against the eviction of the Suehiro Café in Little Tokyo offered a full menu of the different ways a community can be angry.

Sperl goes to hell, read a sign addressed to Suehiros


landlord, Anthony Sperl. That’s a common sentiment among the younger activists of J-Town Action and Solidarity, a group making headlines for its confrontational tactics.

Another sign had a more diplomatic tone: Save Little Tokyo. It was waved by a member of Nikkei Progressives, an activist group whose membership is growing older.

And others skipped the pleasantries entirely: Killer Cops GTFO, read one, referencing Sperl’s former career as a police officer in Stanton, where he shot a 5-year-old boy in a murder that was ruled accidental.

Community groups often disagree on such issues

such as police and homelessness, but Suehiro’s forced relocation has sparked an unexpectedly widespread outcry in Little Tokyo. The news hit a community that was already fighting on multiple fronts, and the signs spoke of that.

Barely readable


on the back of




were the words, “You can’t hide Keiro,” a slogan from an older protest against a community nonprofit’s mistreatment of a Japanese-American retirement home.

In 2021, I wrote about how that facility, which housed overflow patients from county hospitals during peak periods of the pandemic, recorded the most deaths in the state. Junko Suzuki, the founder of Suehiro Cafe, was among those killed.

Sperl initiated eviction proceedings against Suehiro Cafe in February, saying the owner of the 51-year-old business had failed to pay rent. But owner Kenji Suzuki never failed to send the checks, said Suehiro’s attorney, Clifford Jung.

State licensing records show Sperl had other plans for the property, listing him as a partner in a limited liability company called Tokyo Greens, registered in 2018 at the address of Suehiro’s building. Sperl and his attorney, Dennis Block, did not respond to requests for comment.

When the eviction letter came,


Suzuki was still mourning his mother’s death,


. He tried to accept a move and has since had a

new sp

t on the Hoofdstraat. But after news of Suehiro’s fate spread, so many people reached out that he felt inspired to keep fighting.

I felt like I was abandoning ship and leaving all my friends behind. We all worked so hard in Little Tokyo,


Suzuki said.

Suehiro is just one of many storied companies in Little Tokyo facing displacement

and relocation

in the coming months, says Mariko Lochridge, a local corporate attorney. Little Tokyo Arts & Gifts is also facing relocation or closure. Anzen hardware is

to move house

move to a building down the street. And last year, Little Tokyo Cosmetics had to vacate its space on the eve of its 50th anniversary celebration.

Suzuki was willing and able to pay reasonable rent increases, Jung said, but Sperl refused to negotiate or offer a lease.

Evictions and displacements are sparking widespread protests in neighborhoods across Los Angeles. Sunday’s protests, attended by more than 100 people, also included Boyle Heights activists seeking to draw attention to a proposed mixed-use housing project on


Cesar E. Chavez Avenue that threatens the


restaurant El Appetito and various other shops.

It’s too late to save Suehiro’s original location, but help is on the way for businesses that have been in business for at least 20 years.

The cities in January

Employment opportunities

The Department of Economic and Workforce Development will open applications for the new Los Angeles Legacy Business program, which will provide improved access to city services, other technical assistance and approximately


3.6 million in subsidies to be distributed among 245 companies.

Each municipal district will have at least ten existing businesses included in the register, with priority given to businesses facing an immediate threat of displacement and businesses in low-income areas. Businesses on the register also receive official branding in the form of window stickers and promotion on official city websites, such as on an online register.

The grants are $10,000 for businesses with up to five employees and


20,000 for those with more than five will be funded with one-time dollars from the American Rescue Plan. But city officials say they plan to expand the program, including seeking other sources of community development grants.

Right now, it’s more of a celebratory program designed to promote these companies, says Nyssa Buck, senior management analyst at the

Employment opportunities

Department of Economic and Workforce Development.

The program doesn’t provide protections that could have saved Suehiro Cafe or any other tenant with a landlord hostile to their presence, although Buck said the city wants to explore stronger protections for long-time tenants.

But I’m just glad the city is finally putting some money toward combating the worst effects of gentrification. I can think of several beloved community institutions that might still be open if they had an extra $10,000.

Opponents of gentrification are easily demonized as impractical people unable to accept change and the realities of the market. But they can be understood just as easily as people trying to maintain a connection to home. I think the anger over gentrification reflects the frustration of people who have lost the power to shape their own neighborhoods. It’s what anyone might feel when forced from their roots.

It is important that the city recognizes this. Because there is not only anger in the fight against gentrification, but also optimism about what government can be. Not just a set of rules for what you can and cannot do with property, but a tool for us to create the communities we want to live in.

I don’t think the real estate market will ever create friendly conditions that will keep beloved community institutions alive. I would argue that I would never be surprised to hear how many well-known institutions still exist just because a landlord decided not to charge market rate.


Suzuki, 61, understands these things. He is a businessman who sold cars and even went on to get his MBA. But he left his career and his studies unfinished to take over the restaurant in 2001. It was not a business decision, but an emotional decision. His mother needed help.

The restaurant felt as integral to him as any part of his body.


Suzuki said. He grew up there and used to run around with all the kids in the neighborhood while his mother worked. He then worked there with his mother every summer since sixth grade, washing dishes, chopping vegetables and taking down chickens.

When Junko Suzuki opened with her sister Yuriko Suehiro in 1972, all they wanted to do was create a place to play their favorite game:


mah-jongg. But they became some of the first female entrepreneurs in the area. They made Suehiro Cafe a place of comfort, stability and abundance for a community that desperately needed it.

For Kenji


the restaurant became a living legacy of the battle that was faced and overcome. It is also home to a community built by his mother’s kindness and strength of character. And it was all possible because Sperl’s parents, Suehiro’s former landlords, saw more value in Junko’s business than just the rent, Kenji said.

It honestly saddens me that he and his family have been here for so many years, and he doesn’t acknowledge that it is the Japanese who have made this area a special place, Kenji said. The fact that he ignores all that is very sad.

Kenji has to go on vacation in January. Suehiro’s new location is

already open,

a larger, more modern space

the intersection of



and 4th Street.

But he insists it is not a permanent move. As soon as he gets a


On the spot, he wants to move back home to Little Tokyo.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Hot Topics

Related Articles