THE CASE: An old photograph, purchased on eBay, shows the interior of a Victorian-era restaurant and is stamped “Dominion Foto Co., Nelson and Kaslo, B.C.” Where and when was it taken? And who is the dapper-looking Asian man it depicts?
THE INVESTIGATION: A magnifying glass reveals that a menu on a table reads “Nelson Cafe.” This restaurant was listed in the civic directory in 1898 and 1899 at 13 East Baker Street, near Ward, with Yahei Hoshi as proprietor. James Hogg and son John Morley Hogg operated Dominion Photo at the corner of Victoria and Ward in 1898, 1899, and 1900. The back of the photo has an ad for Bailey Bros. Co., booksellers and stationers of Vancouver and Kamloops. The Baileys left photography for stationary in 1898.
So we already have a good idea when the photo was taken, who took it, roughly where the restaurant was (although not which building it was in), and can assume Hoshi is the man who appears in it.
There are several other interesting things about this photo: Hoshi employed Caucasians, judging from the woman and man standing behind and across from him, which would have been unusual at the time.
The dining room is elegantly fitted with carpet, wallpaper, drapes, and ornate light fixtures. It has four tables lined against the left hand side, plus three curtained booths at the back, and a large area in between. There’s a CPR timetable on the wall above an old-fashioned cash register.
Hoshi advertised in the Nelson Miner of May 15, 1898 that “Owing to the fact that since taking over the business of the Nelson Cafe, we have been short of help, we have not been able to give as good satisfaction as we wished. We have now a good, well qualified staff of assistants and will do our best to cater to the wants of the public in first class style in every particular.”
The paper also printed his menu, which featured such delicacies as fried sea bass, boiled halibut, pickled pigs feet, beef sirloin, fricassee chicken, potatoes vaturell, pork loin with applesauce, and a wide variety of cakes and desserts.
In subsequent ads, Hoshi claimed “the best meals in the city from 25 cents up,” stated the cafe was open all night, offered Japanese tea parties every afternoon, and promised “experienced waitresses.”
By 1900, Joseph Scott took over from Hoshi, followed in 1903 by Mrs. Ida Tenucat. Alexandre Audet had the cafe in 1908, by which time it had moved to 812 Vernon Street. It was back on Baker Street in 1914 when W.A. Ward was the owner, but by 1918 had closed or been renamed.
What became of Yahei Hoshi is unknown. There is no sign of his death in the B.C. vital events index.