A new Pearl District sushi restaurant sent out a bizarre press release last week, touting an upscale approach to Japanese cuisine, featuring white tablecloths, a dress code—and a "non-Japanese wait staff."
The restaurant, called Hiroshi, opened on Saturday, December 6th at the corner of 10th and Lovejoy. In the Wednesday, December 13 press release, promoter Tim Reimer wrote: "Don't expect your typical Portland-style Japanese restaurant; here you will find a hostess at the door, and inside, white tablecloths set with fork and knife, and a non-Japanese wait staff."
Sure enough, when the Mercury dropped in for lunch last Thursday, December 14, we found a Japanese hostess greeting guests at the door, and three Japanese chefs stood behind the sushi bar, cutting fish. The waiters, however, were white men.
"The press release contains an unfortunate choice of words at which one could take offense," says John Kodachi, president of Portland's Japanese American Citizens League. But he would be "very surprised" if the restaurant were, in fact, actively discriminating on the basis of race.
"Their wait staff, currently, may be all white," he says. "But is that what they intend in the future?"
Reimer, the restaurant's promoter, denies discrimination, telling the Mercury that owner Hiro Ikegaya "is trying to go with American wait staff because typical Japanese restaurants go with Japanese wait staff, and sometimes that leaves a certain impression."
"Maybe I shouldn't have put that in [the press release]," Reimer admits. "But it's not that they're trying to exclude Japanese people from being waiters. If a Japanese person came in who spoke total, fluent English, they'd be hired. It's about professionalism."
But the situation is of concern to Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). "It sounds like their intention is to provide people who speak fluent English," says Amy Klare, civil rights administrator for BOLI. "But when you name a national origin in a press release, it is pretty overt in terms of discrimination."
BOLI, however, can only base investigations on complaints from those allegedly victimized by discrimination. In the mean time, Hiroshi is free to continue in atypical fashion, unless somebody lodges a complaint about its practices.