On April, 16, 2014, Naoko Kokubun received one of the most devastating calls of her career.
At 5:30 a.m., the Victoria Fire Department called informing Kokubun, the general manager of Sen Zushi, that a massive fire had ripped through the beloved Japanese restaurant that has been on Fort Street for almost a decade.
“I couldn’t believe it until I saw it,” Kokubun said. “I drove by and looked into the window and there was smoke coming out of the restaurant. I was just shocked that happened to the restaurant.”
A resident on their way to work at the Market on Yates smelled smoke and heard fire alarms in the area and called the fire department.
Crews were able to extinguish the fire, but not before it completely destroyed the entire kitchen and caused significant smoke damage to the rest of the restaurant, along with the cigar shop next door.
There was more than $300,000 worth of damage to the restaurant, forcing it to close down.
The fire department said the blaze was started by a rice cooker.
After a year of dealing with multiple insurance companies, Kokubun decided there was only one thing to do — rebuild from the ground up.
They decided to completely change and expanded the layout of the roughly 4,000-square-foot restaurant, starting with the kitchen. In the previous design, the restaurant was in the front, but it has now been moved to the back. They expanded the seating area, added a sushi bar and windows as well.
Restaurant owner Tsutomu Kondo, originally from Japan, also brought wallpaper, artwork and dishes from Japan to give patrons the feeling of being in Kyoto 200 or 300 years ago.
After seven months of renovations, the restaurant finally had its grand re-opening in December where hundreds of people attended.
“We finally feel like it’s home. We opened a temporary location (on Store Street) and we were open there for a few months, but we never felt like it was our restaurant,” said Kokubun, adding prior to the fire they saw roughly 5,000 patrons monthly.
“But here on Fort Street we feel like this is our restaurant and we are proud of the food and proud of the building. We’re happy to work here.”