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San Jose Mercury News, February 10, 2009

“Reviving a Landmark”

Instead of gas, family shop pumps cappuccinos
By Lisa Fernandez

At a time when Starbucks shops are shutting their doors, a gentrified cafe opened in the heart of San Jose's Japantown Monday, welcoming customers to what was once a per-WWII-era gas station.

Silicon Valley politicos, legal eagles and even the family of Madeline Gorman - who told her parents she wanted to celebrate her 5th birthday at the new cafe - showed up to sip lattes and hot chocolates before 9 a.m. at Roy's Station Coffee & Teas, 197 Jackson St.

"We live in the neighborhood, and we've been waiting for Roy's to open," said Madeline's mother, Caroline Otto, as her daughter unwrapped new books over birthday pastries.

"I think we needed an added boost here," Madeline's father, Tom Gormon, said. "This is really welcome."

Downtown City Councilman Sam Liccardo, enjoying decaf with a shot of milk, and defense attorney Daniel Mayfield, running to his car with a latte in hand, also were among the many customers patronizing Roy's on its first day.

The coffeehouse opened after more than two years of planning, building and obtaining the proper permits to renovate the 1935 historic building.

Exuding both a modern and retro feel, the coffee shop, with Wi-Fi outlets and original brick walls, once belonged to Roy Murotsune, 83, and his wife, Esther, 80, who came from a family of Japan-born sharecroppers.

After Murotsune's relatives left World War II internment camps in Arizona and had the foresight to buy the property at the corner of Jackson and Fifth streets, Roy Murotsune ran a gas station with his brothers, while his other siblings operated an American-style diner next door.

Murotsune retired in 1990 after realizing how expensive it would be to update his gas tanks to meet state environmental standards. The property has sat mostly vacant, serving as an unbecoming storage site for several years.

Murotsune's children and grandchildren now own and run the station-turned-cafe. "I want to honor my grandparents and their sacrifices to establish themselves here," said Carole Rast, Roy's daughter. "This is the continuity of our family."

Most of Murotsune's descendants either work at the coffee shop or had a large hand in making the dream a reality - one that cost "well over half a million dollars," Carole Rast said.

Her general contractor husband, Frank Rast, and 28-year-old daughter, Jasmine, did most of the dry walling and electrical work, alongside Garden City Construction, which specializes in historic preservation. Daughter Tamiko, 29, and son Miles, 27, who have their own Web and graphic design business, pitched in their artistic talents.

Other children - Shameka, 15; Crystal, 14; Daniel, 11, Heather, 10; and Benjamin, 8 - served as impromptu historians about their family business and greeted guests holding the door open as people came and went.

Anyone that was listening would have heard the Rasts buy their coffee and tea from spots in Santa Clara nd Berkeley, their desserts from Milpitas and soon-to-arrive sushi boxes from Tengu Sushi in downtown San Jose. The family aims to buy local and to be as green as they can, with a solar-paneled rooftop in a spot that once exclusively sold fossil fuels.

Carole Rast said that the current economic environment is "intimidating," but she's not expecting to become an overnight millionaire. Just as her father made "pennies from each gallon of gas," she's hoping to pay the bills making "pennies from each cup of coffee."

Of course, Roy Murtosune was there, too; he's a fixture in Japantown, and his place was once a bustling community hub.

Guests shook his hand, and he rubbed his eyes as they welled with emotion.

"I know every one is proud of their family," he said. "But I'm especially proud of mine."

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