Owner, 92, says she'll rebuild Japanese restaurant gutted by fire

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Faith Akiko Yamato insisted on checking out the damage for herself, what's left of the popular Kamakura restaurant in Alameda she's owned for 35 years, that's now a charred and waterlogged mess.

"I want to see," Yamato said firmly as an employee gingerly guided her through the gutted interior of the eatery at the corner of Santa Clara and Broadway.

From the outside, the restaurant looks untouched. But inside, it's a total loss.

This was a tour her son didn't want her to take. In fact, he refused to take her there.

"So you know, "pick me up!" she asked of her son. "He didn't," she said, laughing.

Her son, Wayne Yamato said, "Well, I guess just seeing the extent of the destruction would just kind of, you know would just be too hard on her."

But instead, she had an employee take her to her business.

Faith, who turns 93 in March, told me.the fire has only strengthened her resolve.

I asked her why she loves the restaurant so much.

"Why? Because it's (my) life," she replied.

She added, "We can fix it."

The fire broke out about 4:15 a.m. Friday. Firefighters arrived to find smoke billowing from the roof, said Capt. Jim Colburn.

"When we got the front door open, they found smoke and fire toward the rear of the building," Colburn said. "It was going pretty good. It was definitely a working structure fire."

Firefighters knocked it down quickly and say some kind of electrical malfunction is likely to blame. Wayne Yamato showed KTVU where the fire started in the back room, where a dryer, fridge, washer and ice machine are stored.

Restaurant regulars are stunned. One man brought flowers.

Customers say eating at Kamakura was a experience unlike any other,. Faith was there every day, always the gracious host, celebrating customers' birthdays and presenting roses on Mother's Day..

"Well the food is always good," said customer Ellen Florey. "And it's surprisingly reasonable. And Faith is always there to greet you, and someone was always there to say goodbye."

Dr. Steven Heller, a chiropractor who works next door, said, "When you eat here, it's not like you're coming to a restaurant. It's like you're coming to her home. So that's why it's so special and why it's so sad that it's been gutted by the fire."

Wayne Yamato said, "This is going to be painful for her, because she's chomping at the bit, you know, to do something."

Assistant Manager Sarnai Artsat said, "She wanted to come and clean right away."

For now, there will be no more Malibu Salad or Alaskan Fantasy, none of the dishes that have made the restaurant a local institution. But Faith says Kamakura, named after a Japanese fishing town, will return.

"I still love customers and employees, so..we start again," she said.

The family says it may take time, but the doors will reopen because they have the community - and Faith - on their side.