Rod Akuno started working at 20th Street Cafe as a child, in the late 1950s. He stopped last spring, when he and Karen, his wife and partner, decided to permanently close the downtown diner his grandparents, Harry and Tsugi, opened nearly 75 years ago, after their release from Camp Amache, a Japanese-American internment camp in southeast Colorado.
Until the end, Mr. Akuno, 68, woke up at 4:30 a.m. to get stock boiling before opening the restaurant’s doors at 6:30. He spent his days making pancakes and Denver omelets, chicken fried steaks and udon noodles with kamaboko. Many of his regulars also had decades-long relationships with the restaurant, which, for the past 20 years, was open only for lunch and dinner. “It was a space for Japanese-Americans to get together,” said Erin Yoshimura, 58, who began eating at 20th Street Cafe as a toddler. Her grandparents ran a grocery in the same neighborhood. Her father, Rex, 85, discovered the cafe as a teenager, soon after his family moved to Denver, following their release from an internment camp in Arkansas.
Ms. Yoshimura insists that Mr. Akuno’s chicken fried steak was the best in Colorado. “Of course, you had to have it with rice, not mashed potatoes,” she said. “That’s what made it a real Japanese-American meal.”