Legendary San Francisco sweet shop Benkyodo to close if buyer not found


One of San Francisco’s most storied and beloved sweet shops is preparing to shut its doors permanently, closing a chapter in Japanese American history in the region.

Generations of Japanese American families have celebrated holidays, birthdays and Japantown shopping trips with manju and mochi from Benkyodo Company. The original shop was opened in 1906 by Suyeichi Okamura, marking one of the first Japanese businesses in the city. Business bustled until the family was forcibly sent to an internment camp during World War II, closing Benkyodo for the duration of the war. After the family returned to San Francisco, Benkyodo moved to Sutter and Buchanan, where they’ve occupied a modest, diner-like shop ever since.

The business is now in the hands of Ricky and Bobby Okamura, grandsons of Suyeichi. But as the brothers have gotten older, the burden of making mochi every day has grown untenable. 

“One thing I won’t miss is getting up at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Ricky Okamura told KPIX.

An assortment of manju from Benkyodo.

Photo by Adrian B. on Yelp

Business has also declined. The brothers told KPIX in December they’d made 350 pounds of mochi each day in the past week, traditionally the busiest of the year as Japanese families buy treats for the New Year; in previous years, their peak output was 1,200 pounds per day.

As a kid growing up in the ’90s, a trip to Japantown was never complete without a final stop at Benkyodo. Like so many other families, my grandma knew the employees and chatted with them as they packed up our little white box filled with soft manju. I liked the pale pink ones, heavy with homemade red bean paste, the best, and always ate at least one in the car ride home to the North Bay. 

The Okamuras are hoping someone will buy the business and continue Benkyodo’s legacy. But if no buyer comes forward by March, they expect to permanently shutter, leaving a daifuku-shaped hole in the hearts of Japanese Americans across the Bay Area.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Jan. 12 with more information about the potential closure date.


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