The undeniable lust for life of Miki Homma 

Resort reeling from loss of Sushi Village founder

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO - TRAGIC LOSS Longtime Whistler icon Miki Homma, founder of Sushi Village, passed away on August 10.
  • File photo
  • TRAGIC LOSS Longtime Whistler icon Miki Homma, founder of Sushi Village, passed away on August 10.

It's the mid-'80s, and Andy Wasa has a hankering for some sushi.

In those days, the dining options in Whistler being scarce, there was only one place in town that could satisfy his cravings: Sushi Village.

"(Founder Miki Homma) was there in front, this funny-looking guy who spoke what I call broken Canadian-English," Wasa recalled. "Throughout dinner, he kept coming to our table and making wisecracks and giving us a bad time. We loved it!"

It was a dinner that exemplified what it was like to meet the ineffable restaurateur: Start the night as complete strangers, and end it at 4 a.m. knocking back "round after round" of sake together alongside the Japanese ski team.

Fast-forward 30-plus years, and Wasa, visiting from Hawaii last week, was looking forward to sharing another meal with his close friend in a long line of them.

He never got the chance.

Homma passed away suddenly last Thursday at the age of 70 from what appears to be heart failure, leaving the community reeling over the loss of a man who touched countless people with his infectious lust for life, his unwavering loyalty, and his boundless generosity.

"'Icon' is a very good word for him," said Amy Huddle, who served as manager of Sushi Village from 2012 to 2017.

Homma and two of his Japanese friends opened Sushi Village in 1985 as a way to fund their ski-bum lifestyle. Although Homma had long downplayed his role in creating one of Whistler's most cherished restaurants, his business acumen and belief in what the upstart ski resort would eventually become was undeniable.

"(The founders) had a vision of Whistler being able to grow and they figured they'd grow with it," said former server Travis Tetreault.

It's difficult to overstate just how groundbreaking Sushi Village was in its early years. Along with being the resort's lone Japanese restaurant in an era long before the West Coast developed its current sushi obsession, its success stemmed not from a desire to make money, but a lively, sometimes debaucherous atmosphere that remains virtually unparalleled to this day.

"He was steadfast in his vision and in the product he wanted to deliver. And not just the food product, but the style of the restaurant, the feel of the restaurant, the party atmosphere of the restaurant," Huddle said.

That vibrant ambience is a direct reflection of the man himself, who always made sure to take time to enjoy life — even when business was booming.

Longtime friend and Black's Pub owner Lawrence Black knows that full well from his years in the exclusive "Tuesday Boys" club, which saw him, Homma and fellow restaurateur Wayne Katz set aside one day a week to go skiing.

"We weren't skiing enough so we decided to ski on Tuesdays, and if one of us didn't show up, there'd be a $100 penalty," Black explained. After Year 1, they had accumulated $1,900 — "We had quite the incredible dinner," Black recalled. By Year 3, there wasn't "a penny" in the pot.

A people-pleaser at his core, Homma and his wife Naoko thought nothing of giving their time and money to a whole host of causes.

"I've seen it firsthand; they would donate to people they didn't even know time and time again," said Tetreault.

But that generosity extended even further if you were a friend. He covered the cost of a staff member's trip to Japan to visit ailing parents. He helped launch the burgeoning art career of the late Chili Thom. And he was the first person to support the early filmmaking careers of Tetreault and fellow server Feet Banks way back in 2001, handing over thousands of dollars towards the making of their debut ski film, Parental Advisory.

"He knew we weren't really filmmakers at the time, but he knew our character," Tetreault said.

Summing up the unlikely life of such an incredible man is no easy task, so perhaps it's appropriate to leave you with some advice that Homma received from a friend on the chairlift the year Sushi Village opened, which he shared with Pique in a 2015 interview.

"He told me: 'Miki, if you come here to make money, you won't make it. But if you came here to enjoy life, you'll do just fine.'"

Fine, indeed.

A Celebration of Life is planned for early September. Check back with the Sushi Village website for details.

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