Denver Tofu has been providing this city's restaurateurs and consumers with a local source of tofu for forty years. But as we reported last week, Haruhisa Yamamoto, who has owned the company since the 1970s, is closing his factory and leaving the business.
"The plant is under eminent domain by RTD, so it has to move," employee Spring Keim told us, adding that she and a partner, Patrick Smith, were trying to buy the brand name to keep the legacy going until "my boss decided not to sell the business."
But according to Lisa Yamamoto Grimsley, Yamamoto's daughter, Keim's story is not entirely true.
"Because of eminent domain, the Denver Tofu Company will make its last delivery next week," Grimsley acknowledges. "But my father did sell the brand name to a lady -- not Spring -- and she will make an announcement in a few weeks after the legal details are ironed out." Details like who keeps the recipes, for instance, which are still lost somewhere in legal land.
Keim is a former employee of Denver Tofu who was recently terminated, Grimsley says, adding that Smith never worked there. "He's not a mean guy who didn't want to sell to his employees," Grimsley says of her father. "He just wants to enjoy his grandkids and his retirement."
Yamamoto is hopeful that the Denver Tofu legacy will continue to flourish under the new owner, since it's a successful business he built over the course of his life. "He came to Denver literally with a suitcase and a dream," Grimsley says. "He had a few friends here in Colorado, but no connections in the tofu business."
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The Tokyo native soon met the owner of the Sakurai Store, who taught him the basics of making tofu before selling the business to him. "He bought a small location off of 64th and Federal in 1976," Grimsley explains. "He worked seven days a week to build it," adding a variety of flavors of tofu in the process. In 1988, he relocated to the current location on 38th and Blake, a decision his daughter says haunts him because it's on the future FasTracks line to the airport. "He still works six days a week," she says. "He worked his tail off for many, many years."
Stepping out and selling means that there will be a gap in availability. But Denver Tofu should be for sale again sometime in the near future.