The past year-and-a-half has presented a number of unprecedented challenges for all of us. COVID-19 seems to have left no stone unturned as it continues its chaotic march of destruction and disruption around the world. We have all had to regroup, readjust and reshape the way we think and go about our daily lives. We may have to continue to do so for some time yet.
At the time of writing, Australia generally seems to have successfully managed the impact of the pandemic in comparison to other countries; decisive immigration control coupled with prudent interstate border restrictions and safety measures have been adhered to by an alert and responsible public meaning infection numbers and fatalities have been thankfully minimised.
Unfortunately, there remain additional threats to our livelihoods and well being in the land down under that we are all fully and painfully aware of but largely powerless to do anything about – and the most prominent of all is the phenomena of natural disasters.
In recent years the country has been devastated by a spate of unusual and unpredictable weather patterns that have resulted in severe bushfires and floods, resulting in many communities and business nationwide being decimated.
The widespread flooding experienced in northern New South Wales and south east Queensland during an 11-day spell in March of this year was unprecedented in its scale and impact, causing over AUD2 billion in damages.
Homeowners, families, businesses and entire communities were left reeling from the effects of its devastation.
One such local business affected was Sushiko, the well known and well-loved Japanese restaurant situated in Short Street, Port Macquarie.
Tragically, this was the second time the acclaimed restaurant had been devastated by severe flooding. In November 2013 the business was overwhelmed by heavy rains and subsequent floods that resulted in a heart-breaking set back. Fortunately, the owners Naomi and Koichi Sato managed to rebuild and get their business back on track, much to the delight of local residents who had become very fond of the establishment.
The shock and pain experienced by Naomi and Koichi when a repeat scenario occurred earlier this year was, therefore, fully understandable. In fact, the impact of this year’s flood was even more severe as the previous disaster as waters close to a metre high left their premises close to ruin.
‘Fresh Asian cuisine’
Naomi was 23-years-old and living in Sydney when she met future husband Ko in the early 1990s. Ko was trained as a sushi chef. Food was, and still is, his lifelong passion.
In 1997 they relocated to Queensland and Ko worked in a restaurant in Brisbane for five years. They had a desire to move to a quieter, family-friendly community: hello Port Macquarie!
The couple decided to open a restaurant that could not only showcase Ko’s master sushi skills but also present an opportunity to provide fresh, vibrant Asian cuisine to the local community.
Naomi and Ko found it easy to settle and make Port Macquarie a perfect location to raise their daughters. They also felt it was a great spot to launch their business and thus Sushiko was established at shop 3, 21 Short Street in August, 2002. It has been a mainstay ever since.
“Gosh, such a long time ago,” reflects Naomi.
When asked where the name Sushiko came from, Naomi informs it was an amalgamation of the words “sushi” and “Ko” (香) meaning fragrant. It sounded like Ko's name, so Sushiko was it! Simple but very effective and a name that is now synonymous with top quality Japanese cuisine within the local community and surrounding areas.
“By far the best Japanese restaurant on the mid north coast,” posted one avid fan on the Sushiko Facebook page, just one example of the many complimentary comments the venue has received.
‘Everything was upside down’
Coping with the first flood in 2013 was stressful and painful but Naomi and Ko managed to pull through. Getting hit again earlier this year was almost catastrophic.
The flood waters reached a metre high and gutted the entire restaurant and kitchen. Tables, chairs, cabinets, dishes, fridges, freezer, food, everything was ruined.
“When I opened the door everything was upside down,” lamented Naomi. “We had to throw everything out.”
The floods had caused extensive damage and Naomi estimates overall losses to the business between $40-45,000. They were insured and there are business recovery grants being provided by the government but the couple are yet to receive anything.
“We have applied but have not heard anything. We don’t know how much we can claim, if at all,” said Naomi.
Without their kitchen there was no way to store, prepare or serve food and consequently no income being made through the restaurant. Much of the kitchen equipment was not stocked locally in Australia and had to be ordered from the couple’s homeland of Japan, thus increasing the costs and delivery time.
However, after the initial shock had subsided, Naomi and Ko decided to start the rebuilding process once again. It was a slow, painful ordeal but, thankfully, help was at hand as the community rallied around the couple, insisting that the local landmark reopen, something their two daughters fully supported.
It is often said that out of adversity comes strength and the community spirit that was demonstrated to help Naomi and Ko was beyond impressive - something that clearly touched the restaurant’s owners.
“We would not have been able to reopen our doors without the ongoing support and love of our wonderful Port Macquarie community, we are eternally grateful. ARIGATOU and thank you from us to you. Can't wait to see you all for some sushi!”
We all love a happy ending and Sushiko’s story is no exception as the restaurant reopened its doors for business on May 18, much to the delight of the local community.
Naomi and Ko have introduced a few tweaks to their business that they believe will not only improve the quality of their offerings and service but also leave a positive impression on the environment.
“We reopened with a focus on using recyclable food containers for our takeaway boxes which are made from corn and sugarcane and are delighted to be able to provide a more environmentally friendly and sustainable offering,” commented Naomi proudly.
“We are also using more natural ingredients for our sauces and marinades, which we believe is a positive,” she added.
They continue to purchase their fish produce from Port Fresh Seafood, situated next door to the Sushiko restaurant. Port Fresh Seafood is run by Scott, Lindsay and Veronica who, along with their staff, were instrumental in lending support with the clean up at their neighbours damaged premises after the floods had hit.
Sushiko is open on weekdays for lunch between the hours of 11am to 2pm. The restaurant decided against opening its doors for dinner or on weekends several years ago mainly due to the long hours it demanded.
“We start work at 7:30 am every weekday in order to prepare everything for the lunch shift,” said Naomi. “It is a bit too much to take on more and extend beyond those times, especially as Ko is now 69.”
Sushiko may only be open for a limited window on selected days but you will not hear anyone within the local community complaining. In fact quite the opposite, they are delighted that this family-run business has managed to rise above the waters of uncertainty and establish itself once more as one of the most beloved restaurants in the area.
Lunch at Sushiko
a/ U 3 21 Short St, Port Macquarie, Australia
t/ +61 2 6583 3333
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