Seattle has lost a dear and wonderful man, someone to whom all Seattle-area seafood lovers owe a debt of gratitude. Dick Yoshimura, patriarch of the iconic Mutual Fish in south Seattle, passed away Thursday at the age of 98. His passing will be mourned across the local food community. But his impact on the city—on the quality of our culinary life here—will be felt for years to come.
Mutual Fish has deep roots on Rainier Avenue South, having sold their first piece of fish there in 1965. But the business began a couple decades earlier at the corner of 14th and Yesler. Mr. Yoshimura had been working in the seafood warehouses that used to dot Seattle’s waterfront, then in 1947 purchased the old Main Fish Company, making a go in the seafood business on his own.
I met the Yoshimura family and began to learn about their legacy in this city while editor at Ballard-based Simply Seafood magazine. Anyone serious about seafood who found themselves in or near the city limits of Seattle surely has made Mutual a fixture in their shopping routine. But he did more in his lifetime to shape this city’s appreciation for outstanding seafood than many realize. Live Dungeness crab and other local shellfish are pulled from saltwater tanks that we take for granted now, but when they were first installed in the 1970s, it was novel in seafood retail. Mr. Yoshimura worked with fisheries specialists at the University of Washington to design a closed system for his store that would provide an ideal environment for the live shellfish.
Mr. Yoshimura also sold, as reported in a 1980s New York Times article, his own version of kasu-marinated black cod long before it had become a darling on Seattle-area menus. And Mutual Fish was one of the first seafood shops in town to bring in fish by air, about 40 years ago. Son Harry told me earlier about memories of that transition, the adventure of going out to the tarmac to pick up seafood that used to come in by train.
It is a testament to the longstanding impact Dick Yoshimura has had on Seattle’s capacity to eat well that just a few months ago he was featured in Seattle magazine among the inaugural "Food Establishment” that have shaped and defined the food landscape in this city. Right there alongside the young(er) bucks who have come on the scene in the last decade or two, bringing us fair trade chocolate and the best in contemporary dining, it’s important to remember the folks who built the foundation on which this modern gastro-landscape has been built. Mr. Yoshimura is a shining example of those foundation-builders.
When I wrote, about a decade ago while food editor of Seattle magazine, an article about top destinations for specialty foods, the article led off with a profile of Mutual. The opening spread featured an endearing photo of the three generations of Mutual Fish: Dick, with his son Harry and grandson Kevin. While interviewing chefs about their most reliable resources in town, Mutual came up often. And always with some variation on this theme to explain why: they could pick up the phone, talk to a familiar voice, entrust their menu’s seafood selections to Mr. Yoshimura and the reliability of Mutual Fish’s offerings. He offered the kind of customized and personal experience that only a smaller, family-run operation like his could. It’s the same approach that’s made such devoted customers—and friends—of so many who have passed through Mutual’s doors.
We offer our deepest condolences to his family—both his kin-family and his extended and adoring Mutual family. Even in recent months he was still making trips to the store, clearly devoted to the business that he’d built, with little interest in changing that habit. Dick Yoshimura not only helped bring great seafood to Seattle. He mastered the art of creating and sustaining relationships, making bonds with customers of all types. And in doing so, he leaves us with a beautiful legacy.