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Seattle's oldest Japanese restaurant prepares to welcome back diners after winning makeover contest

Maneki has been in business for 116 years. Sponsored by Puget Sound Energy

SEATTLE — Maneki is one of four winners of Evening's Small Business Energy Efficiency Makeover Contest, sponsored by Puget Sound Energy.

The word 'iconic' gets thrown around a lot these days -- but in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, iconic is exactly the word most people use to describe Maneki.

"People claim that Maneki is the oldest Japanese restaurant on the West Coast. We're not claiming it because I don't have any written proof. But we are 116 years old this year," said owner Jean Nakayama.

Maneki has never had a year like 2020. Indoor dining stopped in March of last year and they've been relying on takeout only to stay afloat.

Great news came when Jean learned that Maneki won a $45,000 energy-saving makeover from Puget Sound Energy -- and it was their customers who nominated them.

"It's overwhelming every time I think about it. It brings tears to my eyes because they're all so supportive."

Before the work can begin, PSE's small business energy efficiency team looks for areas where they can help.

"There's a lot of energy efficiency opportunities with Maneki," said Sarah Cann with PSE. "When we get inside we'll be looking at all their energy use. Like lighting and refrigeration and all their kitchen equipment. We're going to look at their heating system and their water heating system and see if they need some upgrades."

So while their indoor dining is closed, the restaurant is busy with workers installing the latest in energy-efficient equipment and updating Maneki's overall look.

Credit: PSE
A new energy-efficient refrigerator is prepped for Maneki's kitchen.

After months of work, the job was finally finished.

"Here at Maneki, we've done a lot of things to improve her energy efficiently in her restaurant. In the kitchen, she's got two brand new fryers. A brand-new ENERGY STAR refrigerator that's going to save you money over a standard base model. We also swapped out the water heater for a high-efficiency heat pump water heater," explained Sarah. To increase the safety of the space we included a MERV 13 air filter and a UVC light disinfected system."

"There's multiple different spaces that all required different types of lighting. We did other lighting in the bar area."

They also redid the lighting in Maneki's famous tatami rooms.

"I can actually dim the lights down so that it would be a really big surprise," said Jean happily.

Some of the cosmetic upgrades include a new way to exhibit their collection of Maneki cats.

"They were able to put in these shelving, these narrow shelving in the dining room so we can display the cats.”

And when guests enter they'll be greeted by a new wall documenting the restaurant's rich past.

Credit: KING 5 Evening
The new history wall at Maneki is lit up with new LED lighting.


"PSE did a really good job in helping us keep the whole mood or whole manner of Maneki but bring us up to the new generation now."

Learn more about Puget Sound Energy's Small Business Energy Efficiency program on their website

The Small Business Energy Efficiency Makeover Contest is sponsored by Puget Sound Energy. KING 5's Evening celebrates the Northwest. Contact us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Email.