In stark contrast to his robbed customers, he seems to calmly accept the situation. He continues to have a significant – and growing – presence in Industry City. “I start to say, maybe, should I keep up?” he said. “Is it worth running the business? Or maybe start a new venture again, even though I’m older now.”
Tadao Yoshida was born in Niigata, Japan, in 1945 and raised in Yokohama, outside Tokyo. Discouraged by the work situation in Japan, he wondered, “Maybe I should be born again? Start at zero.” Although he spoke almost no English, he moved to New York in 1969. He was 24. He took English as a second language at New York University, but tuition was expensive and classes left him cold, so he chose experience over education. In his first ventures into the food business, he was a dishwasher and sold barbecued chicken skewers from a pushcart.
In 1970, he found a job at a candy store called the Ice Cream Connection. The owner, who was often out of town, paid Mr. Yoshida $1.25 an hour and taught him how to make the ice cream. The store catered to the hippie crowd and sold flavors with names like Acapulco Gold and Panama Red. To this, Mr. Yoshida started adding his own creations, green tea and red bean ice cream, rarities at the time. In these efforts to bring the flavors of its culture to the East Village, you can discover the origins of Dojo and everything else.
The East Village was dangerous then and Mr. Yoshida was known to keep a long Japanese sword behind the ice cream parlor for protection. There is a story that after watching Mr. Yoshida chase some troublemakers away with the sword, a young John Belushi was inspired to create his recurring samurai character in ‘Saturday Night Live’.
“People said that,” admitted Mr. Yoshida. “I’m not sure. After the samurai sketch, people said, ‘Tony, that’s you.’”
The sword was not his only weapon. Mr. Yoshida was an early adopter of martial arts, including karate and aikido, and as a young man wore loose shoes in case those skills were ever needed.
“Someone tried to rob Dojo while Tony was standing there,” said Lorcan Otway, the owner of Theater 80 St. Marks, a bohemian institution a stone’s throw from Dojo. “He got off his shoes and started kicking so that his toe just touched his chin, apparently driving the man back onto the street where he had parked his getaway car. And Tony said, “You! Get in the car! Drive away!”