Founder Hirai opened Richmond Fujiya in 1989

By Samuel Cheng

Published 1:00 PDT, Fri March 18, 2022

Last Updated: 3:30 PDT, Mon April 18, 2022

In the second part of a series on Richmond's business roots, we share the story of Fujiya Japanese Foods.

Specialty food store Fujiya Japanese Foods has been open in Richmond since 1989. 

Fujiya specializes in imported Japanese grocery items as well as food made fresh daily including sushi, donburi, bento boxes, and more.

Prior to opening Fujiya, founder Shigeru Hirai opened Maneki Japanese Restaurant in the early 1960s. Maneki, an early pioneer of Japanese catering and fine dining experience, was also one of the first restaurants in the city that had a sushi bar and tatami rooms. A tatami is a type of mat used as a flooring material in traditional Japanese-style rooms.

The success of Maneki led to a busy schedule for Hirai. To stay within the food industry and the community, Hirai decided it was time to start an alternative venture—Fujiya.

The name “Fujiya” was inspired by Hirai’s mother, whose name was Fujiye. The word “ya” means “store” in Japanese. By combining the two, the name Fujiya was born.

Hirai and his wife Akemi are both considered to be “Kika-nisei,” a term used to describe Canadian-born Japanese people who moved to Japan during the Second World War and then returned to Canada after the war ended.

“Being Japanese-Canadian offers a different perspective on a Japanese food business as we focus more on celebrating and learning about Japanese culture together with the greater community,” says Megan Matsuda, manager of Fujiya Japanese Foods and Hirai’s granddaughter.

Fujiya has encountered numerous challenges over the years. Staffing, especially during the pandemic, proves to be one of the most difficult endeavours that the business has ever faced.

“Most companies we know are having to get used to working with a skeleton crew or being perpetually short-staffed,” says Matsuda.

Aside from staffing issues, the business is also challenged by the skyrocketing costs of importing packaging and food ingredients as well as the unpredictability of sales.

“So many businesses are in the same boat with many struggling to (stay) operational,” says Matsuda. “Government funding has been helpful but it makes you anxious about the future and whether this is the new normal.”

Although Fujiya is fighting an uphill battle, it seizes every opportunity to implement changes that improve customer experience and satisfaction. Caring and looking out for its customers have always been top priorities for the family-owned business.

“We are always looking to change and improve,” says Matsuda. “The challenge is always how we can continue improving and innovating to ensure the business pushes forward.”

After more than 30 years in business, Fujiya has created deep ties with the Richmond community, particularly the Steveston neighbourhood which has a rich history of Japanese culture. 

“We are all bound together with the joy of Japanese food,” says Matsuda. “Being able to discuss Japanese ingredients (and) culture with customers is very rewarding.”

To keep its employees and customers satisfied, the key is to build a positive and harmonious relationship.

“Relationship building is very important,” says Matsuda. “As the business grew over the years, we had to find a way to continue building strong connections when the amount of staff and customers grew with it. This is an active focus for us right now.”

There isn’t a single, one-size-fits-all answer on how to retain returning customers. 

“We just try to hit on the major points that customers are looking for—variety, food quality, availability of items, price point, customer service, etcetera,” says Matsuda.

A tip for future entrepreneurs and business owners is to follow the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principle and to maintain a “dogged” determination and fighting spirit during times of hardship.

Nevertheless, Fujiya continues to serve the community with authentic and genuine Japanese items and food products.

“We try our best to offer the best quality and consistent sushi and bento at an affordable price,” says Matsuda. “Having a good variety of items that are ready to eat is convenient for people on the go.”

Fujiya Japanese Foods first opened in Richmond in 1989.

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