Amidst the red carpet, the camera flashes and local celebrity, Mikuni Japanese Restaurant "Chief Dreaming Officer" Taro Arai made it clear the Fair Oaks Mikuni reopening party was all about thanking his loyal customers.
With a seemingly endless supply of sushi and other iconic Mikuni dishes, Arai, his family and co-workers were all on hand to welcome back his friends and customers Tuesday evening to the Fair Oaks restaurant that catapulted his franchise to being one of the most successful restaurant franchises in the Sacramento area.
The newly renovated restaurant closed in late December 2012 when an air conditioning unit malfunctioned, sparking a fire in the attic above the kitchen and dining area, effectively gutting much of the ceiling and ruining the floor with smoke and water damage. However, the fire presented Arai and his Mikuni executive branch a unique opportunity to perform a budgeted renovation on the original restaurant.
"At first my CEO [Haru Sakata] and I didn't know what to do," Arai said. "We started doing the calculations and everything and just said 'everything happens for a reason, so we have to take everything positive somehow.'"
Arai and his team brought in a number of contractors, eventually settling on a design that was both cost-effective and innovative while maintaining the aesthetic customers had come to expect from the Mikuni franchise.
"Maybe it was time to rebuild, so I'm going to take advantage," Arai said.
The result was an expanded and refinished, almost refined renovation on the 25-year-old restaurant. The walls were painted with a mash-up of greens and purples, adorned with giant chop sticks, a generational set of Arai family portraits, traditional Japanese ware and paintings done by renowned Sacramento artist David Garibaldi.
Though Garibaldi was unable to make the party, the artist had created an all-new painting he dedicated to Arai that was unveiled during the party.
"I told him what happened and he said 'you know what, let's paint a [fire] extinguisher,'" Arai said. "And we're going to draw something on the wall to remind us."
Check out the complete grand re-opening video and an extended interview with Taro Arai in the story's photo and video gallery.
Much of what customers had come to know about the restaurant remained, though its look reflected Sacramento's 21st century coming into its own. Flat screen TVs, an improved sound system [complete with DJ] and other modern amenities were all on display.
"The fire was unfortunate but [Arai] got to play with it and make it what he wanted, so that's kind of nice," said longtime Fair Oaks Mikuni patron and friend Phil Sanchez. "He's taken some ideas from the other stores and they're nice and made things work."
The restaurant is now officially open for business again and will have its first day of actual operation since the fire beginning Wednesday at 11 a.m.