Sharon Sullivan

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June 21, 2012
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A taste of Japan

Rie Pruitt cheerfully serves her customers, most of whom she knows by name. Nearby her mother, Kuniko Kaneiwa, carefully prepares homestyle Japanese dishes in the kitchen at Kuniko's Teriyaki Grill, a small Japanese restaurant celebrating this month seven years in business.

The food - teriyaki dishes, sushi, soups, noodle and rice combinations - is all made from scratch and fresh to order.

Kaneiwa, a 67-year-old widow from Nagoya, Japan, moved to Grand Junction to start the restaurant with her daughter seven years ago. Pruitt had already emigrated from Japan after coming to the U.S. to attend college.

When her mother would come to visit, she'd cook for Pruitt and her husband, Michael, and their friends - all of whom would rave about the food.

"She started thinking she would like to cook for more people," Pruitt said. "She wasn't ready to be retired. She wanted a challenge. She loves to cook."

So she packed her bags and moved to Grand Junction to open Kuniko's Teriyaki Grill in the shopping center at 12th Street and Patterson Road, next to Blockbuster Video.

From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Kaneiwa, who speaks only Japanese, cooks while her daughter takes orders and serves. During evenings and on weekends, an employee waits tables while Pruitt helps her mother prepare the food - all of which is made fresh to order.

Gyoza ingredients, a type of dumpling made with cabbage, ground pork, green onion, ginger, garlic and sesame oil are chopped as fine as granules of sand, Pruitt said.

"They are all her recipes," Pruitt said. "Nothing's from a jar. We make it."

The menu is surprisingly full for such a small staff.

"It was just teriyaki at first - no sushi," Pruitt said. "My mother wasn't expecting so many American people would want sushi (a staple in Japan). It surprised her."

The menu includes two dozen different varieties of sushi rolls, including the traditional Japanese cucumber roll and tekka roll with tuna.

Kuniko's doesn't advertise, relying instead on word-of-mouth.

Paper lanterns and other Japanese artwork decorate the relaxed and modest interior.

Generous lunch specials such as chicken or salmon teriyaki go for $5.95 and $6.95. The menu also includes vegetarian options, as well as Japanese and domestic beer and sake.

Translating for her mother, Pruitt said, "she appreciates the local people supporting us all these seven years. We've had regulars for seven years. We know most all of our customers' names."

Among those loyal customers are Carl and Betty Wahlberg who last Friday brought Pruitt and her mother a chocolate cake made by Spoons Bistro and Bakery to celebrate Kuniko's seventh anniversary, a milestone in Japanese culture. Customers that day received a free piece of cake after their meal.

"It's very homey, a family operation and we really like the food," Carl Wahlberg said. "The teriyaki is our favorite."

Kuniko's is open for lunch, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner, 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays the restaurant is open from noon to 2 p.m., and 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Kaneiwa and her daughter arrive to the restaurant by 10 a.m. and don't usually leave until 9 or 9:30 p.m. Although they do go home between lunch and dinner for a respite.

"She's going to go on until she's 85," Pruitt said, laughing. "It's keeping her young."

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The Post Independent Updated Jun 21, 2012 04:45PM Published Jun 21, 2012 04:44PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.