12 Sep Suehiro Cafe x CRFT by Maki: An Intergenerational Collaboration
Suehiro Cafe x CRFT by Maki: An Intergenerational Collaboration
Suehiro Cafe, one of Little Tokyo’s oldest legacy businesses, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. To commemorate the major milestone, LTSC’s Small Business Counselor, Mariko Lochridge, helped foster a collaboration between Suehiro and a younger Little Tokyo retail business, CRFT by Maki. Together, the businesses created a limited edition t-shirt and special lunch bundle to celebrate Little Tokyo businesses and draw foot traffic to First Street. Darin Maki, owner of CRFT by Maki, shared: “For the t-shirt design I saw a photo of old Suehiro tees and it had 5 colorways, which matched the cigarettes and matchbooks they used to sell. This collaboration pays homage to that era of Suehiro.”
The partnership was a success, with Suehiro selling out of lunch specials and drawing in a steady stream of visitors. “One of my favorite things about these types of projects is the intergenerational aspect,” explained Mariko. “Legacy businesses lend the strength of their branding to the younger businesses, and the younger businesses get to lend their marketing and digital expertise to the older business.”
Darin Maki is a long-time fan of Suehiro Cafe, with memories dating back to his childhood, when his family would grab a meal after going to Nishi Hongwanji Temple. For him, collaborating with Suehiro was a dream come true and an opportunity to strengthen the Little Tokyo business community. “I feel like growing up in Little Tokyo and seeing how things have changed here makes the point more important to keep the legacy businesses going and have the new generations help with that,” said Darin.
For Suehiro Cafe, celebrating its 50th anniversary was no easy task. Facing threats of gentrification and displacement along with the hurdles of the pandemic, Suehiro struggled to stay open. LTSC supported businesses like Suehiro with grant and loan application support, volunteer marketing consultants, the LT Eats program (which delivered meals to seniors and generated much needed revenue for restaurants in Little Tokyo) and facilitating creative marketing collaborations. Suehiro’s owner, Kenji Suzuki, continues to be impressed with the services LTSC has provided for his business. “It’s hard to put into words how much Mariko and LTSC mean to us,” explained Kenji. “They really came through during the pandemic, and provided us and other restaurants with food orders. With the help of volunteers, Mariko also helped us establish a social media presence. It’s unbelievable what she’s done for us.”
For Darin, the pandemic forced nonessential businesses (like CRFT by Maki) to close nearly 2 months after he opened his brick and mortar on First Street. “I want to commend my landlord, LTSC, for just being understanding, and working with us and the other community businesses who have space in their retail locations.”
Though the pandemic was a scary and uncertain time for many small businesses in our community, LTSC aimed to provide resources and creative solutions for local businesses, both new and old. With life slowly returning to normal, this creative collaboration and milestone celebration serve as a reminder of the power of community. “I am in a neighborhood of small business owners that look out for each other in the worst of times and I certainly wouldn’t be here without my neighbors and the J-town community,” Darin wrote in his blog.