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Restaurant owner talks COVID-19 challenges as federal official visits

Updated July 18, 2021 - 10:01 pm

When Hideki Horiuchi moved from Tokyo to Las Vegas in 1997, he noticed something was missing.

Back home, he enjoyed hanging out at an izakaya — a Japanese version of a U.S. bar or pub that served food in addition to alcohol. But in Las Vegas, every Japanese eatery was all “sushi, sushi, sushi,” he said.

So with no experience as a chef or restaurant owner, Horiuchi decided to open his own izakaya: Ichiza, at 4355 W. Spring Mountain Road in Chinatown.

It was Sept. 10, 2001, to be exact. The next day’s terrorist attacks whizzed by, because Horiuchi was so busy figuring out where to buy plastic straws and other necessities that he could barely focus on anything going on outside of his restaurant’s walls.

A few months ahead of Ichiza’s 20-year anniversary, the restaurant on Sunday had a special guest: Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. She stopped by as part of a cross-country trip to meet with small businesses and tout the nation’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guzman, who will speak at the Reservation Economic Summit on Monday, said meeting with restaurant owners was important during her trip. She planned to visit more restaurants and host a roundtable with underserved communities during her Las Vegas visit.

“We know that restaurants were hardest hit during COVID — oftentimes the first to close and last to reopen fully — and now, as they’re trying to position for a recovery, we really need to make sure that they have the capital they need and the resources they need,” she said. “And the (Small Business Administration) is here to help them.”

Horiuchi said he wasn’t sure if Ichiza would survive the pandemic. The restaurant received PPP loans and managed to make it, but the challenges haven’t stopped.

He has struggled to fill open positions, like many business owners across Las Vegas. For the first time in nearly 20 years of service, the restaurant is now closed one day a week because there aren’t enough workers to fill shifts.

But on Sunday, as media members and political officials filled his restaurant, Horiuchi was in a good mood. He came to Las Vegas to study casino management at what is now the College of Southern Nevada. Decades later, his sudden career change has turned out just fine.

“It was totally a challenge,” he said. “I was around 30 years old, from a totally new start. And I came here, just like other students.”

After all the cameras left, he stopped and scanned his restaurant’s walls, adorned with extra menu items that have been added throughout its existence.

“I had a purpose, after all,” he said.

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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