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September 3, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Restaurant owner posts ‘open letter to bigot diners’

File photo of Hajime Sato by Nichole Smith/The Seattle Times

File photo of Hajime Sato by Nichole Smith/The Seattle Times

Hajime Sato, owner of Mashiko in West Seattle, has always “scoffed at the notion that women had no place behind a sushi bar,” as we once wrote. Now he’s telling others to drop the belief too.

In an “open letter to bigot diners” on the Mashiko website, Sato wrote recently that some customers were making “ignorant comments” to his staff and in online reviews, saying that there are no Japanese people working at the restaurant.

“Why yes, we do have a female sushi chef. She also happens to be Caucasian,” he wrote.

“Her name is Mariah Kmitta, and we are blessed to have her behind our sushi bar. Mariah has been wowing customers at Mashiko for over 12 years. She has an amazing following of devoted customers who only dine with us when Mariah is working…Should you refuse her fare based on her gender or race, you are an absolute fool.”

Several people of Japanese descent work at Mashiko, Sato wrote in the post, but it shouldn’t matter. “Would you refuse service at an Irish pub if your server didn’t speak with a fanciful brogue? You do realize that sometimes people in this great big melting pot may not have a look that accurately reflects their genetic makeup. Do you also insist on DNA tests wherever you go? Of course not. Stop being an ignorant racist.”

Mashiko customers applauded the letter on the website and on a Facebook post, which was widely shared and debated online.

A writer at Slate, though, said it seems like an oversimplification to say that race and gender and sexual orientation don’t matter:

“Mashiko, which has a Japanese owner, should not be accused of cultural appropriation. But if, hypothetically speaking, a group of white Americans opened a sushi restaurant and hired an all or mostly white staff, would race still “not matter”?” wrote L.V. Anderson.

“In that instance, race would matter, and quite a bit, because the owners would be capitalizing off of others’ culinary traditions and their own white privilege at the same time. It sounds great to say that everybody is equal or that you don’t see race, but it minimizes the persistent systemic racism that favors white people over everyone else.”

Sato told the West Seattle Herald that “It’s crazy, like 30,000 people looked at (the blog post). And before (the bigot letter) I posted about how smelt is great and I got like 100 people looking at it. I’m passionate about anti-racism, but I’m passionate about smelt too. I just hope people will eat smelt more and not be racist.”

0 Comments | Topics: Hajime Sato, Mariah Kmitta, Mashiko

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