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House of Kobe to reopen soon

December 01, 1997

House of Kobe to reopen soon

By MARLO BARNHART

Staff Writer

After 11 months of planning and struggling, the new House of Kobe is about to open its doors at the site of last January's devastating fire.

"We are really excited - it's been a tough year,'' said Masahirao Hirai, co-owner of the restaurant with his wife, Jun.

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An early-morning fire Jan. 25 that destroyed the popular Japanese restaurant at 757 Dual Highway was ruled arson a few days later.

Almost immediately, the Hirais began making plans to rebuild.

A grand opening and charity benefit this Sunday will herald the return of the restaurant. Tickets for that special event are $25 each, with $15 of that to go to Y-Me of the Cumberland Valley.

The restaurant will be open to the general public for lunch and dinner very soon, Hirai said.

The new building is roughly in the same style as the old, but there have been many improvements, Hirai said.

"Before, there were only four hibachi tables and now, there are eight,'' he said. Hibachi cooking is done in front of the customers who can watch their dinner as it is prepared in the traditional Japanese way.

The growing popularity of sushi - raw fish - has also prompted a change in the new building. Before there were chairs for seven at the sushi bar and now there are 14, Hirai said.

The main restaurant area has more windows and larger booths. The bathrooms are more modern, as is the kitchen.

There is also a separate room for large parties that can also be used for customers who smoke.

"About 90 percent of our customers don't smoke but we wanted to have a room for those who do, without the smoke getting into the rest of the restaurant,'' Hirai said.

Plans are also in the works for a new feature, Hirai said. A luncheon buffet for busy midday diners is being studied for the new future.

Since the fire, the House of Kobe has been in temporary quarters in the Dagmar Hotel building on the corner of Summit Avenue and Antietam Street downtown.

"Our customers have been wonderful and very loyal,'' Hirai said.

Many customers have also journeyed to Frederick, where there is another House of Kobe restaurant along U.S. 40 west of that city.

In March, an arrest was made in connection with the fire, In September, Kevin Augustus Cotten, 30, was found guilty of second-degree arson in Washington County Circuit Court.

Cotton is facing a maximum 20-year sentence for the arson, with three years more possible for a second conviction of destruction of property. No sentencing date has been announced.

Key testimony at the trial came from a woman who said Cotton woke her up early that morning and told her to "come see what I did'' and proceeded to take her down to watch the restaurant burn.

The fire destroyed the restaurant and left at least six employees temporarily without jobs. It was started in the rear of the restaurant.

Hirai testified the loss was about $200,000. Construction on a new restaurant at the old Dual Highway site began a few months later and will culminate with Sunday's grand opening and benefit.

Jun Hirai said she hopes the benefit can become an annual affair, with a different charity each year. "We are so glad we can support Washington County,'' she said.

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