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Takara owners do an about-face in using Wasabi name

December 6, 2018

The couple whose family runs two Takara restaurants in the Madison area, and a former one on State Street, backed down from calling their newest restaurant “Wasabi.”

Last week, Erica and Brian Ni opened a restaurant called Wasabi in the same location where the venerable Wasabi Japanese Restaurant operated for almost 25 years.

Erica Ni called the restaurant’s menu half Wasabi, half Takara. The couple renovated the space, but used the same sign and same phone number. They were hoping to retain Wasabi’s regular customers, Erica Ni said Wednesday.

Ken Katsuma, who owned the original Wasabi at 449 State St., with his wife, MaryRay Katsuma, had to close the restaurant in July after the couple had difficulty paying the rent. The Katsumas began having financial problems following complications from a kidney transplant Ken had 12 years ago.

As of Wednesday, a GoFundMe campaign only raised $2,295 of its $40,000 goal.

Meanwhile, Takara, another popular Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, left State Street in 2016 after 15 years because the rent got too high.

MaryRay Katsuma was surprised to learn on Wednesday that the Nis were the ones using their Wasabi name. She called it “deceiving.”

She worried that longtime customers would come to the new restaurant expecting the same food and service. “It really breaks my heart,” she said.

MaryRay said she and her husband don’t have the money to take legal action. Their financial situation is so bad they’re about to lose their house, she said.

Katsuma said she recently got a phone bill from AT&T addressed to Wasabi and was wondering why she was still getting charged. Now she realizes that the new owners are using the same Wasabi phone number.

Erica Ni said she made a couple of attempts to reach the Katsumas through Wasabi’s landlord. But after the State Journal ran a story on the situation Wednesday on madison.com, she said she and her husband decided to change the name.

She said she didn’t think reopening Wasabi without permission would be a problem. She said she checked with an attorney before using the Wasabi name, and said they could because it isn’t trademarked. A number of businesses in Wisconsin use the name Wasabi, she said.

The couple didn’t want to call the restaurant Takara because that’s the name of the restaurants owned by Brian Ni’s family. The family owns Takara on Whitney Way, Takara 88 in Middleton, and owned the former State Street Takara.

The new restaurant is now called Yume Japanese Restaurant. Erica Ni said “Yume” means “wish for the future” or “dream.”

The Nis also own Ramen Station on Park Street with another partner. Erica Ni manages Takara 88.

“We’re very excited to be back on State Street again,” Erica Ni said. “There are not many choices for Japanese food and sushi on State Street with Wasabi and Takara gone.”

As for the Ken Katsuma, MaryRay said that her husband has been hospitalized twice recently, but in general is doing better now that the couple isn’t putting in 14-hour days at the restaurant.

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