Natsumi Saeki – Feeding Ducks: a family business
“ When mom had her stroke, that was like, this is it. Decision time. Like, what are you gonna do? I’m definitely going to continue this restaurant like there’s no way I’m going to let this you know this restaurant go away.”
“We have so many different cultures, so many different, you know, ages of people that come to our restaurant. It’s amazing.”
- Natsumi grew up in Alhambra around the restaurant basically her whole life.
- Natsumi always kind of knew she would take over the restaurant but tried a different major in college.
- Natsumi came home and took over Ducks in 2017
- Ducks survived Covid due to a non-profit group, loyal customers, and a Facebook group that brought in new folks.
- Ducks is now thriving and considering a second location.
A restaurant owner joins Russell and Scott in the SGV. Natsumi Saeki owns a local restaurant called ducks that have been in the neighborhood since her family started the shop.
Can you tell us about the restaurant?
Ducks opened in 1995 when Natsumi was 7. It could be described as Japanese comfort food.
They try to make the atmosphere to be as homey as possible.
They serve a lot of curries, udon noodles, soba noodles, and tempura, things that give a feel of comfort.
Do you cook yourself?
Natsumi is the head cook of Ducks, but they also have a team of cooks that are passionate about this particular type of food.
How did you end up in the SGV?
Natsumi’s parents and the people who opened Ducks are not from the United States.
They immigrated from Japan and had their daughters in California.
At home, they still speak Japanese at home.
Natsumi went to San Gabriel high school even though she lived in Alhambra.
Natsumi would work in the restaurant basically all of her life. She helped as a child and worked as a teen and a young adult for gas money.
The business side isn’t something she really learned until later in her life in the restaurant.
How far away did you go to college?
Natsumi went to Long Beach State. Far enough to stay there during the week but close enough to work on weekends.
Are your parents still involved in the restaurant?
No, they are not; they retired in 2017.
Natsumi’s mom had a stroke in 2017.
It was then they decided mother just needed to step away.
Her father worked in more of an unofficial capacity for a few more years, but both have now stepped away from the restaurant.
However, it still is always a topic of conversation in the home.
And the previous owner is not afraid to pop in and pay a quick visit and take a few complete foods and drink items.
When did you know you wanted to carry on the restaurant?
Natsumi always knew. She went to college for health care administration because she always knew the restaurant would be there.
So reasonably, she decided to try to expand her own horizons and look beyond the restaurant. However, after the stroke, she was firm that she was going to continue Ducks.
Who is your clientele?
All over the board. It is always shifting and changing. All cultures and all ages come and enjoy the food.
Because Katsumi is always there, she’s always meeting new customers and customers that have grown up loving the restaurant and now taking their own families to the restaurant.
What’s the origin of the name?
Katsumi and his family would go to Almansor park when they were very young, and Fred to ducks at the park. So when her dad opened the restaurant, he used the name to show how he was metaphorically feeding the ducks.
Funnily enough, they don’t serve duck.
What did your parent’s journey look like in starting the restaurant?
They went through every restaurant’s horror story. They were close to bankruptcy. They had tax problems. They had issues bringing in business. They went through it all, and they still made this place where people were comforted.
What was Covid like?
It was obviously a scary time for restaurants, but they were able to stay afloat.
They actually had several incredible things happened for them while Covid was happing that helped them stay open.
A non-profit off the plate reached out to Ducks and asked to partner with them and help give meals to hospitals. They bought food from finders to support the restaurant and also give away great meals.
They also had a lot of local support order food and kept them going during a very trying time.
SGV East exploded during Covid. Alan went to school with Natsumi. Ducks was also featured on the Facebook page regularly by their loyal customers. This helped expand their customer base a lot, and that was needed.
What changed generationally?
They have made the transition to working more on social media. They post on Instagram and Facebook. Katsumi has more of a chance to advertise easier than her parents ever did.
Her parents only ever had newspapers or word of mouth. They were very limited when they first started.
Katsumi has a goal of keeping the atmosphere and the menu basically the same because her parents nailed it, and she still loves it.
Although she is thinking about another location to add her own flare to the business without altering the original.
1 Ducks in San Gabriel
2 Almansor park in Alhambra
3 Santa Anita Mall in Santa Anita
Natsumi Saeki is the owner of Ducks Restaurant located in San Gabriel. She is the daughter of the founding owners of the restaurant. She went to San Gabriel High School and graduated from Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) with a Bachelor’s in health care Administration. During her time in school, she played basketball and volleyball. After college, when it became apparent that her parents needed to rest from the family business, Natsumi took over for them and continues the job of serving the community the food and taste that she, and many of the neighborhood families grew up with.
Ducks restaurant first opened their doors in May of 1995 to expand the family tradition of ‘feeding the ducks.’ Although they are famous for their Katsu-don, they do offer many traditional Japanese favorites like Tonkotsu Ramen, pork or chicken Cutlet Curry, Udon, Cold Soba, and Shrimp Tempura.