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Wasabi sushi bar

The sushi bar in the new restaurant.  

The Japanese restaurant and sushi bar Wasabi closed in July after almost 25 years on State Street after its owner/chef Ken Katsuma had trouble paying rent due to high medical bills following a kidney transplant 12 years ago.

A GoFundMe campaign raised $2,295 of its $40,000 goal.

Meanwhile, Takara, another popular Japanese restaurant and sushi bar, left State Street in 2016 after 15 years because the rent got too high.

Wasabi sushi chef

The owners of the former State Street Takara opened a restaurant called Wasabi where the former Wasabi used to be.

Now, Takara family members are using the Wasabi name in the old Wasabi location, 449 State St., hoping to retain Wasabi's regular customers. The restaurant opened Thursday.

MaryRay Katsuma, who owned Wasabi Japanese Restaurant with her husband, was surprised to hear the Takara owners were the ones using their Wasabi name. She called it "deceiving."

She's not sure if they are allowed to do that, but said she and her husband don't have the money to take legal action. Their financial situation is so bad, she said, they're about to lose their house. 

Katsuma said she wondered why she recently got a phone bill from AT&T addressed to Wasabi. Now she realizes that the new owners are using the same Wasabi phone number.

She's worried that longtime customers are going to come to the new restaurant expecting the same food and service. "It really breaks my heart," she said.

Katsuma said that her husband has been hospitalized twice recently, but in general is doing better now that the couple isn't putting in 14-hour days. 

Erica Ni, who opened the new restaurant with her husband, Brian Ni, called their menu part Wasabi, part Takara. She said she made a couple of attempts to get a hold of the Katsumas.

She said she will try again after learning they are unhappy with the situation.

Ni also said she checked with an attorney before taking the Wasabi name, and said they were able to because it isn't trademarked. A number of businesses in Wisconsin use the name Wasabi, she said.

The couple didn't want to call the restaurant Takara because that's the name of the restaurants owned by Brian Ni's family. The family owns Takara on Whitney Way, Takara 88 in Middleton and owned the former State Street Takara. 

Erica and Brian also own Ramen Station on Park Street with another partner. Erica Ni manages Takara 88. 

"We're very excited to be back on State Street again," Erica Ni said. "There are not many choices for Japanese food and sushi on State Street with Wasabi and Takara gone."

Wasabi hostess stand

New owners are using the Wasabi name in the same State Street location.

Ni said the remodeling job included new furniture, kitchen equipment, painting and flooring. 

Edwin Ellis of Ellis Construction was behind the renovations. Ellis was also responsible for the build out of Ramen Station, Breakwater in Monona and the former Hamilton's on the Square.

Ni said they've kept the Wasabi sign, but may eventually change the restaurant's logo.

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Wisconsin State Journal food writer Samara Kalk Derby brings you the latest news on the Madison area's eclectic restaurant scene.