Olympic skater Mirai Nagasu helps save parents’ restaurant

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WITH MOM AND POP ­— Ikuko, Mirai and Kiyoto Nagasu.
photo courtesy of Mirai Nagasu

Mirai Nagasu, the winner of a bronze medal in the team event at the 2018 Olympics, knows the thrill of victory. Her parents, on the other hand, felt the agony of defeat as their restaurant almost became a casualty of the coronavirus pandemic — until their daughter came to their rescue.

Her parents Ikuko and Kiyoto — who came to the United States from Japan and opened up Sushi Kiyosuzu in Arcadia, Calif. — almost lost their once-successful business because of financial difficulties due to the three-month shutdown of the economy.

“I think the coronavirus hit everybody hard, especially in the restaurant business, because they weren’t allowed to operate for a long time,” Nagasu, 27, told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a telephone interview. “For my parents, it was really difficult. They were really stressed out about finding the funds to stay open. They didn’t want to tell me that they were going through a hard time … But I knew that it was financially very difficult for them because of the mandated shutdown.”

Nagasu heard about the Power of 10 Initiative from a high school friend and convinced her parents to participate in something that could help them. “English is not their first language, and they were trying to figure out how to get a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan,” she said.

The Power of 10 Initiative, started by Washington, D.C.-area restaurateur Erik Bruner-Yang, allows restaurants to stay open to make meals for health care workers and low-income families, and allows restaurants to pay employees. A lot of restaurants previously had to furlough employees when the pandemic hit.

The relief program was originally supposed to pay restaurants $10,000 a week to make 1,000 meals a week, Nagasu explained. “My parents, because they have such a small restaurant, were a little overwhelmed by that number, so they decided to take on a special workload of 500 meals a week.

I think that actually worked out better for them because it’s a small 40-seat restaurant.”

Her parents are doing OK now, she said.

“They just finished their Power of 10 in late June. They had to do a lot of extra work to make 87 meals a day … Making meals for people who are on the front lines against the pandemic, I think that meant a lot to them.”

Dad Makes Delicious Sushi
Nagasu said her parents’ restaurant has been operating in the majority-Asian town of Arcadia for close to 20 years. “My dad makes some really delicious sushi. One of my favorites is the Nikaido Roll, named after a long-time customer who has been going there for years, Nikaido-san.”

Nagasu, an only child who grew up as a “restaurant baby,” said she did her homework at the restaurant and took naps there. “My parents didn’t know that skating was such an expensive sport — it took a lot out of them — but I’m really grateful that they invested in me.”

Nagasu is now living in Boston, “not doing much of anything” because of the shutdown. She was studying at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and plans on getting her business administration degree. She had also been teaching ice skating and holding seminars, Nagasu explained.

“That helps pay the bills.”

She misses being in an ice rink but is unsure what she’ll do after businesses reopen, Nagasu stated. “I’ve been enjoying summer, but I’ll have to go back to school. It depends on my schedule with the seminars and shows.”

While some Asians have been assaulted and blamed for spreading the coronavirus, Nagasu said her parents have been “really lucky in that they haven’t experienced any racism as of right now, and thankfully the shop hasn’t been looted. But I know that in Little Tokyo there was a lot of looting going on … Of course, Black lives matter and I hope there is police reform.

But at the same time… I feel for the Little Tokyo shop owners having been looted when the pandemic has already hit hard for all of them.”

Although her parents are immigrants from Japan, Nagasu didn’t consider herself as being just Japanese. “I really related to being Japanese American … Now I’m Asian American. As our community rises, and people with voices like mine are coming to the forefront, it’s been really refreshing. The Asian American community is not like people said when I was growing up, that ‘Asians don’t do sports, they’re really good at math.’ I’m terrible at math, and I love to skate and I’m kind of good at it.”

Growing up, Nagasu never saw Asians in films, never saw people that looked like her on television. “But now we see much more diversity and I think Hollywood is trying to be much more inclusive,” she said. “I hope there are more people who can break down those barriers.”

As for her own Hollywood experience, Nagasu stated, “I was on Dancing with the Stars, and that was a really different experience. It was a little bit challenging for me because I’m so used to training for weeks on end to perfect something before the competition … I hope to continue to explore any options that are available to me.”

Nagasu, the first American figure skater to land a triple Axel at the Olympics, revealed that her role models are Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi. “They definitely paved the way for skaters like me. Kristi was Olympic champion and Michelle was multi-world champion as well as Olympic medalist. I definitely tried to be a skater like them.”

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