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Retiring after nearly 30 years as owners of Mihama Teriyaki Grill, Liz and Denny Takeda are shown here at the counter in front of their Godzilla collection, an homage to the movie Denny watched as a child in L.A., a film in which he saw a lot of people like himself for the first time. (Jim Flint photo)

After selling Mihama, retirement on the owners’ menu

After nearly 30 years as owners and operators of Mihama Teriyaki Grill, Denny and Liz Takeda are hanging up their aprons for the last time today. They sold the business and are retiring.

“It was time. I enjoyed it but it’s getting harder as I get older,” said Denny, 68.

To celebrate their long run and to thank the community for its support, they are donating proceeds from all sales (except alcohol) today to three local charities: Friends of the Animal Shelter, the general scholarship fund at Southern Oregon University, and the Maslow Project, which provides aid and support for high school age homeless youths.

Mihama, at 1253 Siskiyou Blvd. in Ashland, was named after a restaurant Denny’s family owned in Torrance, California, in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County.

“They wanted me to take over the business, but L.A. is too big. I wanted to live in a smaller town,” he said.

Liz, 56, had an aunt and uncle who ran the Furniture Depot on A Street in the 1970s, so she knew about Ashland. The community was just the right size for them.

The two met when she was in the Peace Corps in 1986 in the Cook Islands. He was a sous chef at a seafood restaurant. They were married a year later, and found themselves in Ashland not long after.

“We didn’t want a location in the downtown area tourist scene,” Denny said.

The ups and downs of the tourist season didn’t appeal to them. They were going to start a family and felt a location that catered to locals would give them the steady business they needed.

Over the years, the restaurant attracted lots of locals. But it also got a share of tourists and college students as well.

“Of course, we benefited indirectly from tourism,” Denny said. “When tourism was up, locals had more money to spend with us.”

They divided up the responsibilities of running the business.

“We both do some prep work,” Liz said, “but I basically ran the front of the house and did the bookkeeping while Denny took care of the back, running the kitchen.”

Many of the recipes for Mihama’s teriyaki sauces are from Denny’s mother. Everything was house-made — the sauces, the salad dressings, the miso soup.

“In the beginning, it was hard to find Japanese rice,” he said. The Japanese version is a medium grain, sticky rice.

“We used to buy 100-pound sacks from an Asian market in Medford.” These days it’s easier to source the kinds of food products they feature in the restaurant.

What was it like working together for 30 years?

“We enjoyed it,” Denny said. “We each took care of different stuff, had our own areas.”

Liz agreed.

“Oh sure, we’d moan and groan to each other now and then, but we have a camaraderie. We respect each other,” she said.

It was meeting all the people that gave them the most satisfaction.

“We had regulars who would come in once, twice, even more times a week,” Denny said. Over the years, they found themselves serving the children, then the grandchildren of some of their customers from the early days.

“Often a middle-aged guy would come up to me and say, ‘Do you remember me?’ It was usually somebody who used to come into the restaurant when he was a college student,” he said.

Liz said she especially wanted to thank three women they call the “Barbs,” who were very loyal customers. They are friends who all had the same name and were frequent diners at Mihama.

After raising twin daughters who both recently graduated from college, the Ashland couple is ready to slow down.

Liz said she plans to take a few weeks off to visit friends and family, and then may look for an opportunity in the service industry. “I like people,” she said. She also looks forward to having more time for gardening and hiking.

Denny wants to explore his artistic side.

“I’m going to take up pottery again,” he said. He apprenticed in ceramics in Japan, where he was born, and looks forward to creating more complex pieces such as teapots and bonsai pots.

The new owners of the restaurant are Annie Lee and Seungkyu Park, who purchased the Mihama name and its recipes. They also own Little Tokyo Restaurant on the Ashland Plaza, which they will continue to operate.

“We hope to be ready to re-open Mihama by late July or early August,” Lee said.

Jim Flint is a retired editor and publisher living in Ashland. You can reach him at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.

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