Why San Francisco's 115-Year-Old Mochi Shop Benkyodo Has Closed

It's rare to walk into a shop and taste handmade confections that were enjoyed by multiple generations before you. That is the edible legacy of Benkyodo, a family-owned mochi shop that has been sweetening the lives of San Franciscans since 1906. After over a century of delighting customers with traditional Japanese mochi and other sweets, the iconic store announced that it is closing its doors for good as of March 31.

Suyeichi Okamura was one of the first immigrants to open a small business in San Francisco's Japantown. According to SFGATE, he named his shop Benkyodo as a signal of inclusivity to his community, as it loosely translates to mean "affordable." He offered mochi, which are sweetened short-grain rice cakes, and steamed wheat flour cakes filled with bean paste called manju (via Spoon University). The Japanese confections were made fresh daily by hand, and flavors were often updated for each season.

Throughout its impressive history, Benkyodo has only closed its doors twice. The first time was when Okamura was placed in an internment camp with his wife and son during World War II. His family and confectionery persisted, and Okamura passed his legacy down to his son, Hirofumi, in 1951.

Benkyodo's owners are retiring and closing up shop

Hirofumi Okamura continued the legacy of supplying traditional Japanese mochi to lucky Bay Area patrons at Benkyodo. In 1990, he passed the business on to his sons, Ricky and Bobby, who operated the store until today. This week, the two brothers announced their plans to retire and close its doors after 115 years. The second time the sweets shop closed temporarily, SFGATE reports, was when the pandemic hit independent restaurants in Japantown hard during 2020. The store closed for almost three months but quickly returned to making 1,000 mochi and manju cakes by hand daily. For those who managed to get one last box of the treats, this is the right way to store mochi.

Benkyodo collected devoted fans over the decades and was named the California Small Business of the Year in 2008. And if awards aren't enough of a quality indicator, the workers' level of craftsmanship is accounted for by the daily line of customers stretching out the door. Leading up to their retirement, the Okamura brothers hoped to sell their business and allow the legacy to continue, but when no potential owners came forward, they announced that the store would close its doors on March 31, 2022. As they head into retirement, the family pays respect to its loyal customers and reflects on the sweet legacy of Benkyodo.