Hatsuye “Hatsy” Yasukochi, a Bay Area native who since 1974 was the co-owner of Japantown’s Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop bakery, died on March 27 of complications related to COVID-19. She was 80.
Yasukochi was born on March 7, 1940, her family says, and grew up in the East Bay cities of Lafayette and Concord. As a young child, her family and she were uprooted by the U.S. government’s internment camp program, which from 1942 to 1945 pulled Americans of Japanese descent from their homes and isolated them, out of fears of espionage during World War II. According to Nichi Bei, Yasukochi’s family was sent to a compound in Rohwer, Arkansas, then to the notorious camp of Tule Lake.
According to daughter Stacey Nolan, who spoke to NBC Bay Area about her mother’s passing, Yasukochi didn’t say much about that part of her life, but by the time Yasukochi reached high school (she graduated from Mount Diablo High in 1958), she “was flourishing” and “was in the school play, she participated in sports.”
After high school, Yasukochi attended San Francisco State University and met Hisao “Moses” Yasukochi (known by many as “Tom”), who she married on May 3, 1964. Ten years later, the couple opened Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop, which quickly gained a reputation for its coffee crunch cake — their take on a treat served at Blum’s, a Bay Area pastry shop chain that shuttered decades ago. Inside, the cake was a lemon/vanilla sponge that was smothered in whipped cream, and its outside was coated in a shell of bittersweet coffee crunch candy.
The Blum’s recipe was a long-held secret, but Moses learned how to make it at a baking job he had before the couple owned Sweet Stop, once telling KTVU that he was trained by a guy named Antoine who used to handle candy-making duties for Blum’s.
Hatsy had a similar respect for Blum’s, sometimes showing customers at Sweet Stop a menu from the long-ago shop that she had kept for all these years. “Blum’s Koffee Krunch Cake, 55 cents,” she’d read to guests, before confirming with a laugh that the 55 cent price didn’t apply to the present-day wares. Nolan describes her mom as “the smile of the bakery...She was always the one who greeted the customers. She knew a lot of the customers by name.”
In 2019, Yasukochi was diagnosed with lung cancer, and continued to work at the bakery even as she underwent chemotherapy and immunotherapy, her family tells the LA Times. During a second round of treatments this February, doctors moved her to a rehab home for 24-hour care. It was there, her family says, that they believe she contracted COVID-19 — though they removed her from the home when the pandemic hit the Bay Area, she had already fallen ill. She died just a few weeks after her 80th birthday.
She’s survived by her three daughters (Stacey, Wendy, and Erin) and five grandchildren (Amanda, Kenji, Samantha, Justin and Lindsay), as well as her husband. According to the family, a public celebration of Hatsy’s life is planned, and will be held “when it is safe to do so.” Until then, one can commemorate her passing at the Sweet Stop, which had been closed since the Bay Area’s shelter in place began, but reopened on Thursday, May 21. Only now, the bakery will be led by Yasukochi’s grandchildren, the family says, and those famous cakes must be preordered (by phone at 415-931-8165). Preorders, pastries, and danishes will be available for pickup on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.