Stanley M. Fried
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From Of Coffee and Coffeehouses  - Kiyo's


Sitting in a cafe while reading: looking up for a moment to stare out the window at people and cars passing by; letting thoughts settle as the eyes rest on objects in motion following them as they pass through space and time; the aroma of coffee in a cup wafts its way into one's thoughts; the eyes fall back onto the table where one sits; there are shadows beneath the crumbs of a now eaten pastry. The mind wanders through times gone. The past is ago and now there is a movement into what will be. In this place here, sitting to read, thoughts wander from the page where words were meant to mean.

Moments of privacy in public places bring a sort of pleasure that cannot be replicated at home. In all of an instant, one is by themself in life with others passing past in their own moments of solitude. These moments are sometimes shared...more often held close in intimacy. There is no way to share the inner dialogue we maintain. This is ourself talking to ourself. This is that time where we can clearly see what no one could ever show us. It can never be planned...only stumbled upon to be discovered when we are capable of seeing what has been so clearly placed before us. In such moments of solitude, we are free to be our self with our self. We are free to see honestly what words can seldom contain.

Moments like this came frequently in my last few weeks in San Diego. Times of sitting alone to ponder where I had been, what I had done, who I have been, what I would do, where I would go, who I will be. Only my heart could provide the answers to my questions if I could just be still for long enough to hear what it was that I sought. Friends came by and people I knew wished me well and asked me questions. So much to distract me away from my thoughts. Yet, my mind always wandered back to the same place to search for a sense of the self I had become.

There were the tasks and chores to handle: saying good-bye to friends; packing my possessions; selling what I could of what I owned; parting with those things that no longer held my interest; preparing for a performance to end my stay in this town. Through this, many friendships solidified. Through this, many people gave me aid. Coffeehouse owners and staff members often treated me to free coffees, meals, beers, wine and cigarettes in those last few weeks. Restaurateurs provided me with free meals. Shopkeepers bid me well. People who had once been customers of mine assisted me with moving and providing free space to store my things. Some who had worked for me in the past gave me a kind of support that helped carry me through a difficult time. Never in my life have I been hugged so much as in my last two weeks in San Diego. Even people I had only known in passing went out of their way to give a present or a card. It was a comfort to know that so many wished me good fortune while understanding my need to seek something different.

To all who helped me in those last few weeks, I would like to extend my gratitude. Especially to Susan at Seventh Near B; Scott, Kelly, Debbie, Johnny, Renee, John, Erin and Jeff of La Tazza; Carrie of the Gas Haus; Grace, Marcos, Monica and Michael of The Wiki-Up Cafe; Bassam of Cafe de l'Amitie; and Kiyo of Kiyo's. There are others such as Bill and Kathleen Beck, John Cherry, Terry Bryan, Lynn Schuette, Shaun Eyre, Jason Hitchcock, and John Rippo who helped in many different ways. And there are the customers of cafes that I frequent such as Paul, Jennifer, and Mary the Spanish Gypsy who supported me in what I was doing.

Of all of the places mentioned here, only one is not a coffeehouse or cafe. That is Kiyo's, a Japanese restaurant in downtown San Diego (531 F Street, San Diego, telephone 619-238-1726) midway between The Gas Haus and Cafe Lulu. I first met Kiyo at his previous site on 5th Avenue in Hillcrest shortly after I had moved to San Diego in 1981. Having developed an addiction for sushi from my years in Los Angeles, it was important for me to find a decent sushi bar in San Diego. After much searching, I found my favorite at Kiyo's. Here the sushi was presented in a simple and pleasant manner. The quality of the seafood was always first rate. The affable manner of Kiyo himself made going there a delight as he would talk with all of his customers as if they were personal friends as well as guests. Being a good host, Kiyo would help those at the sushi bar to meet each other and engage in convivial conversation.

I went to that small sushi bar restaurant for years. Adjacent to it was a little dive bar which was connected through an archway. One could get drinks from the barmaids who would come into Kiyo's to take orders and serve. It was always an experience to go there. Wonderful tempura, teriyaki, yakizakana would fill large plates. The prices were always reasonable for the quality of food, the presentation, and the service.

One day I went into Kiyo's and he handed me a card to fill out with my address. He told me that he was moving and wanted to be able to to tell his customers when he would re-open. As it turned out, the San Diego Blood Bank had bought the property to turn into a parking lot. Kiyo's was to be no more. For a long time, I dreamed about the evenings I spent there. Nowhere else in San Diego could I find the food that had provided me with such satisfaction.

I have a particular affinity for Japanese food. It is a "comfort food" for me. For some reason, if is the food I seek when I am depressed or upset or when the weather is especially cold or hot. When there are extremes in my life, I find myself searching for a decent meal of Japanese food. Perhaps it is the handling of the bowl when sipping misoshiro. Perhaps it is the heat of the tall cylindrical cups used for tea. It may well be the sweetness of a teriyaki sauce or the tart saltiness of oshinko. Something of the experience is soothing and quieting. It may well just be all that koto music that is played in the background.

With Kiyo's closed, I found myself searching for other Japanese restaurants in San Diego. Only one other came close to filling the bill and my stomach. That was Otomayan Noodle House on Convoy in Kearny Mesa. Here is a place that specializes in the wonderful noodle dishes Japanese cuisine offers. And here is a place where the gyoza are the finest I have ever eaten. But I lived and worked downtown and its location was inconvenient.

One day, a year or so after opening Java, I saw Kiyo sitting in a corner of the cafe with his wife and a friend. It had been a few years by then since I had seen him. I walked up to him and reintroduced myself. He remembered me and told me that he was soon to reopen on F Street. I could not wait until he was ready. On the day Kiyo's re-opened, I was there for dinner. The menu had been shortened from what was previously offered. But the quality of the food and presentation were as good, if not better, than I remembered. Kiyo's was again open and I felt at home again.

The first year was difficult for Kiyo's. I found myself eating there often. Sometimes I ate there every night. Often, I would be the only customer. In that time, Kiyo and I would talk. We became good friends. Kiyo became Kiyo-san. I became Stanley-san. And the food always seemed to improve.

It was my last weekend in Sand Diego and I could not leave without eating one more time at Kiyo's. I walked in alone and sat at the sushi bar. I was determined to eat until I had my fill no matter what the cost. Kiyo-san started me off with some tuna. He as able to find me some toro instead of plain maguro. Then he offered me hamachi. The meal was off to a good start. Shellfish and eel followed. He called out to the waitress who brought me some misoshiro. I was beginning to get full. To conclude the meal, I had tobiko with quail egg. The bright orange-pink roe glistened next to the small, yellow yolk. I could not have been happier.

Kiyo-san and I talked. The other people at the counter and I talked. A woman was there from Tajikistan. A man was there from Hawaii. We all talked and joked. The woman and I smoked cigarettes. It was the evening I had hoped for to end my stay in San Diego.

When I asked Kiyo-san for the check, he told me that he had not gotten me a present for my going away and so the meal was to be his treat. More than good food was offered me at this restaurant. This was a place where friendship was offered and enjoyed. This is a place I will miss.

After the meal, I went to La Tazza to get some dessert and a glass of port. Again, alone, I sat at the counter. Here I was joined by others whom I had yet to say good-bye to...people wishing me well. And here, the staff insisted on buying my dessert and wine. After so many meals and so many nights there, the staff was kind enough to provide me with this final dessert.

I then stopped by Cafe de l'Amitie to see Bassam and pick up some cigarettes. Bassam was busy with some friends who were celebrating with a full and proper service of caviar (something he does not ordinarily offer on the menu). He wanted me to join them, but I still had much to do at home. We talked a short time then I asked to buy some cigarettes. Here too, I could not purchase anything. He pressed three packs of cigarettes into my hands. I promised to see him, to spend time with him before I left. I was able to do that.

My final days in San Diego were filled with the gifts of friends offering conversation and food and drink and smoke. Susan, from Seventh Near B, gave me coffee and bagels all of my last week in town. She took me out for lunch on two occasions. She took me out for champagne one night. She even worked the door at my performance at the Wiki-Up Cafe. Carrie, who works at the Gas Haus and who will most likely have her own cafe some day, took me out to dinner. Others helped as well. And for one friend, it was a difficult and long farewell.

These are friendships that transcend any business relationship that may have caused us to meet in the first place. These are people whom I am pleased to know and hope to know for quite some time. I have written this to thank them for their care and their consideration over time and especially in those final weeks of my being in San Diego.

©1994 - Stanley M. Fried/The Espresso


At the time Stanley Fried was leaving San Deigo, he was nearly destitute. Not too many knew of his financial problems. He had budgeted just enough for the move to Seattle and had no prospects of work once he arrived. The outpouring of affection and assistance by those around him amazed him and made quite an impression.
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