As downtown continues to redefine itself with the new Golden 1 Center and a wave of new business development, one of its most beloved eateries is bidding farewell. It’s not a swanky restaurant geared for power lunches and business expense accounts, but a home of saucy Japanese comfort foods for nearby office workers and others on a budget.
After 33 years on 10th Street between J and K streets, Megami Bento-Ya is offering its final plates of sesame chicken and other signature dishes. Owners Alan and Judy Honda have opted not to renew the restaurant’s lease, even with the potential to attract a new wave of customers heading to the nearby arena. Megami is expected to close by early November.
The owners of midtown’s Tank House BBQ & Bar and the new Jungle Bird tiki bar on 25th and J streets plan to take over the Megami space with a yet-to-be-determined concept.
Honda, 61, said renewing his lease on 10th Street would require investing more than $50,000 to remodel the restaurant. After more than three decades, Honda is simply ready to bid farewell to his restaurant with the familiar blue canopy out front.
“There’s been a lot of good customers, and I’ve made some friends for life, but things change,” Honda said. “To really compete (with other nearby eateries), if I put in money to fix this place up, I’d have to open seven days a week and hire 10 more people. The next step is a big commitment.”
The name “Megami” translates in Japanese to “goddess,” and has been used for the family business since the restaurant was founded in 1976 by Honda’s parents near 24th Street and Florin Road. Megami moved to its longtime downtown location in 1983, where “Bento-Ya” was added to the name – a term that means “bento shop” and refers to a box lunch style of business.
Megami specialized in a kind of Japanese version of soul food, with Asian styles of fried chicken and other meats that are ordered at the counter. Lunch plates, which cost $7.95 and $8.50, come paired with pan-fried vegetables and a mound of rice that’s topped with one of Honda’s house-made sauces. The shop also includes a small sushi bar where Honda could often be found slicing fish during lunch and dinner service.
For longtime customers including Matias Bombal, the rush is on to get final plates of chicken yakiniku or sushi. City leaders will also present the Hondas with a proclamation at an upcoming City Council meeting.
“Maybe (Megami) didn’t have as much flash as the others, but you always felt like you were with friends in an intimate place that was agreeable,” Bombal said. “I think of all the shared memories we had in this lovely oasis of kindness.”
Honda is mulling the idea of starting a Megami truck. He’s also working with a customer who formerly worked at the Campbell’s Soup factory in south Sacramento to bottle Megami’s sauces for the retail market.
But for now, the Hondas are busy serving their final customers and pausing to reflect on the past three decades of Megami.
“From the beginning, I’m not here for the bigwigs,” Honda said. “I’m here for the working people, the secretaries. That’s why I keep it very simple. I keep the prices low. I didn’t try and make it a fancy place. That’s all it was.”