Happy Pride Month, Yelpers! Each June, celebrations around the world commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969, a pivotal moment in the fight for LGBTQ equality. Just as these events honor the struggles and advances of the gay rights movement, Yelp would like to celebrate how businesses with queer connections have shaped the cities that they call home. Follow along all month as we profile some of America’s top LGBTQ small business owners, all Yelper approved.
In June of 2016, John Sugimura and Xiaoteng Huang opened PinKU Japanese Street Food in Northeast Minneapolis – a “fine-casual” Japanese restaurant that showcases fresh ingredients, authenticity, and culture. So fresh, in fact, that they do not have a freezer or a storage backroom onsite. From melt-in-your-mouth seared salmon on savory rice cake, to plump and crispy shrimp drizzled with creamy spicy mayo, they craft Japanese delicacies in front of patrons in the open kitchen. Their food and space not only honor incredible ingredients, but also a concept of harmony and cross-cultural community. PinKU has been so successful at their flagship location, they are currently working on opening up a second location at MSP International Airport.
In celebration of PinKU’s successes and Pride month, we spoke with John, a proud LGBTQAI member, to learn about the passion and story he’d like to share with the Twin Cities, exclusive updates on their new MSP Airport location, and where to find him and his four-legged friends during Pride.
Q: How did you and Xiaoteng get started with PinKU?
PinKU Japanese Street Food is my story as a third generation Japanese American and second-generation sushi chef using the cuisine you might enjoy eating in the kitchen of my chef grandmother, circa 1925. I have been professionally preparing and teaching sushi and Japanese cuisine since 2009. Xiaoteng and I first met in my class. We shared the identical mission to create the original chef-inspired, fine-casual national restaurant brand for Japanese street food using the finest fish and ethnic ingredients for a cultural, entertaining, and educational experience. We were clear thinking about what we wanted the experience and the spirit of the restaurant to be. We quickly picked up enormous momentum. We’re really proud of what we’ve become in a very short period of time.
Q: What is the meaning behind the name “PinKU”?
PinKU is understanding. Socially relevant. Japanese urbanity. It tells a story. PinKU is the Japanese word for “pink” and the political ideology to call for the end of violence in the world. Pink, like the cherry blossom, represents the friendship shared between Japan and the United States. Lord Mayor Ozaki Yukio’s gift of over 3,000 seedlings represents our country’s deep friendship with Japan, and can be remembered every spring in Washington D.C., as well as throughout the year. I have supported and been inspired the Ozaki Yukio Memorial Foundation for more than a decade. This foundation promotes worldwide democracy.
Q: What is one thing you need Minnesotans to know about the unique food you offer?
This is personal; it is really important for Minnesotans to understand that PinKU Japanese Street Food tells the Japanese American heritage experience with multi-generational recipes and food with the goal to build community and celebrate differences. We are driven to make a positive difference in this world.
Q: Can you provide updates on your new location at MSP Airport, anticipated to open in early 2019?
The location is in the main mall of Terminal 1. Hours of operation will be 5:30am – 9:00pm and a brand new full breakfast menu will be launched! We will have our full liquor license at this location, featuring an original craft drink menu. Here is an exclusive concept photo:
Q: How do you support the local LGBTQAI community?
As a business and employer, we support and embrace the LGBTQAI community 52 weeks a year! My restaurant and workforce reflects our community. For decades, I have been an advocate.
Q: Any Twin Cities Pride events that you’re particularly excited about?
Every year, I look forward to “standing to shoulder” with my community to celebrate our health, welfare and safety and see the special show, walking in the neighborhood to Pride In Concert, scheduling the week around Ashley Pride In Concert GLBT Pride Parade (With Rudy and Crash), and celebrating at the festival… duh!
Q: Very important: Tell us more about your adorable dogs, Rudy and Crash.
PinKU Japanese Street Food has been the catalyst for personal reflection generating an overflow of self-love and I will be forever grateful. In this crazy world and being a restauranteur, Rudy and the new addition, Crash, are my rock. No matter what’s going… they adore me and keep my life basic. I feel safe when Rudy lays across my feet. Rudy and Crash make every day a good day and I adore them 100% of the time!
Want to know more? Check out and bookmark PinKU Japanese Street Food on Yelp!