The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
In 1974, Yae Nakato left her native Japan to help run a family startup in Atlanta. Her sister, the late Tetsuko Nakato, had opened the Nakato Japanese Restaurant and needed her younger sister’s assistance.
Today, there are a total of five Nakato restaurants with two in Charlotte, and one each in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Springfield, Mo. All offer a hibachi grill as well as traditional Japanese dishes, some of which reflect Mrs. Nakato’s worldly culinary influences that she perfected at the first location at 1776 Cheshire Bridge Road.
“Her sister called to help with a family venture, and now all the restaurants are owned by family, cousins and uncles,” said Sachiyo Nakato Takahara, a relative who co-manages the Atlanta location. “We celebrate 40 years in Atlanta next year. We are a third-generation restaurant, and we are grooming a fourth generation.”
Yae Nakato of Marietta had contracted fluid in her lungs and died Saturday from its complications at Piedmont Hospital. She was 96. The funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Friday at the Happy Science Temple in Atlanta. H.M. Patterson & Son, Spring Hill Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.
Mrs. Nakato was the youngest of seven siblings, children of parents who owned a lumber company that was based in Manchuria, China, and conducted business throughout Asia. After World War II, her parents lost the business and were forced to return to Japan, their homeland.
“She lived all over Asia when she was younger, so it influenced her cooking,” Takahara said. “Her ingredients were amazing, and she always cooked for everybody else who worked in the restaurant, and she did it well. She was the behind-the-scenes person who took care of employees and the family.”
In her younger years, Mrs. Nakato immersed herself in track and field sports and participated as a sprinter in Korean national events. Coaches and teammates nicknamed her “Tsubame,” which means sparrow in Japanese.
Mrs. Nakato and Takao Nakato, her late husband of more than 30 years, never had any children but helped raise several. She never learned to speak English.
“She had her green card, and she took pride in the United States,” Takahara said. “She was very low-key but stern and was very dedicated to the company.”
Additional survivors include nieces and nephews.