Obituary: Fish-market founder Dick Yoshimura set high standards
The Mutual Fish Company founder, Dick Yoshimura, died July 5 at age 98.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The man who pioneered some of Seattle's highest seafood-quality standards as founder of Mutual Fish Company, Dick Yoshimura, passed away on July 5 from complications of pneumonia. He was 98.
Some of Seattle's most discriminating palates, including restaurateur Tom Douglas, revered Mr. Yoshimura's standards for freshness. His was the first Seattle fish market to have a live-tank system for shellfish. He was also the first in Seattle to fly in fresh fish such as tuna from California and Hawaii.
"As a chef, you're always trying to inflict your passion onto a fish," said Douglas, a Mutual Fish customer for more than 30 years. "But (Mr. Yoshimura) taught me how to back off and respect the beauty of the product. He brought that respect to the fish, and as a young white kid, it was fascinating to learn under him."
Mr. Yoshimura started working in Seattle fish markets as young as age 15 when he emigrated from Japan with his brother, said his son, Harry Yoshimura, who now runs Mutual Fish.
As a teenager, Mr. Yoshimura developed a reputation for working so hard for fish companies along the Alaskan Way waterfront that he was immediately rehired after being imprisoned for three years at a Japanese internment camp during World War II, his son said.
Mr. Yoshimura soon funneled his passion for fish into a lifelong career when he founded Mutual Fish in 1947. The shop was first located at 14th Avenue and Yessler Way and then moved to its present location at 2335 Rainier Ave. S. in the 1960s.
Harry Yoshimura said his father didn't spend much time outside of the shop while working shifts that often started at 6 a.m. and ended at 10 p.m. So Harry started at age 10 learning his father's trade by watching the market staff. Some workers hired there in the 1960s are still there.
In addition to the culinary revelations Douglas said he picked up while hanging out at Mutual Fish as a young chef, he learned how to treat his workers through Mr. Yoshimura's example.
"It always impressed me the way they run their business, the way they treated everyone like their family — it just felt like people I wanted to do business with," said Douglas, who won a James Beard Award this year for Outstanding Restaurateur.
As Harry Yoshimura took over the administrative side of the business in the 1980s, there was more leisure time for his father. Mr. Yoshimura liked to compete with friends over who could build the best lure for fishing trips to the Columbia River.
Mr. Yoshimura did manage to find one passion outside of fish about 20 years ago: karaoke.
"He'd put a headset on while he was cutting the lawn and just sing his heart out," his son said, laughing. "My mom would yell at him to knock it off."
Mr. Yoshimura traveled around to California and Hawaii to visit friends he made through the business. He made a habit out of going to karaoke clubs with them, too.
As recently as two weeks ago, Mr. Yoshimura was still coming into Mutual Fish's tiny administrative office to help send out invoices, his son said. Up until about two years ago, Mr. Yoshimura's skill with a knife could be seen as he out-filleted other market workers, his son said.
As Harry Yoshimura carries on the family business with his son Kevin Yoshimura, he said he'll use what he quietly learned from his father over the years:
"Just be really nice to people, have a lot of patience, be honest more or less, and realize that things don't happen overnight," Harry said.
In addition to his son, Harry, of Seattle, Mr. Yoshimura is survived by his wife, Misao Yoshimura, of Seattle, his daughter, Lisa Duff, of Des Moines, and his grandson, Kevin Yoshimura, of Kirkland. The family is planning a small, private service for this weekend and asks those wishing to honor Mr. Yoshimura's memory to donate to their favorite charity in his name.
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.