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[whitespace] Robbers surprise patrons of restaurant

Cupertino--In a robbery attempt that some diners thought was a staged show, two armed men entered the Hamasushi Restaurant at 9:40 p.m. on Saturday and made off with $900.

One employee was injured in the robbery at 20030 Stevens Creek Blvd., near the corner of Blaney Road, though no gunshots were fired.

There were approximately 50 to 60 customers in the restaurant when the suspects entered through an unlocked rear door.

"Some customers didn't know what was going on," said Sgt. John Hirokawa, spokesperson for the sheriff's department. "Some thought it was a fight. Others thought it was a staged event with actors. Then they finally realized something was wrong."

The suspects did not demand any money from the customers, Hirokawa said.

Host Richard Ignacio was in the kitchen when the two men entered the restaurant and demanded to be taken to the safe.

One of the men grabbed the head chef and dragged him into the restaurant looking for the safe, Ignacio said. "The other man came in my direction and took the bartender to the front," he added.

On the way into the dining area of the restaurant, the chef said he didn't know where the money was and told the robber that the waitress J. Kim--who was standing nearby--knew. At that point she stepped in.

"I said, 'He doesn't have any money, follow me,' " Kim said. "They put the gun to my head and followed me to the cash register. They said hurry up, but I tried to slow down to give people time to call the police."

After all the money in the cash register, approximately $900, was handed over to the suspects, they demanded that Kim open the safe. She opened all the cabinets to show the men there was no safe, Kim said.

"I try to give them money, and they put the gun to my chest," Kim said. "They put the gun to my head, my heart, my back, my chest many times."

Fearing for Kim's life, the head chef--who had been released after they grabbed Kim--returned to the front of the restaurant with a fire extinguisher he took from the kitchen. The chef sprayed both suspects in the face, creating a white fog in the room.

In the ensuing confusion, another employee grabbed one of the suspects. The employee was injured when one of the suspects struck him on the head and shoulder.

The suspects then fled the restaurant through the back door. Witnesses spotted them running west toward Chili's Grill and Bar.

One of the Hamasushi hostesses saw a red four-door Suburban speeding out of the Chili's parking lot soon after, Ignacio said.

The suspects were described as black males with muscular builds wearing black nylon-type masks and dark clothing. The first suspect, 6 feet tall, was armed with a handgun. The second suspect, 6 feet 2 inches, was wielding an assault weapon.

Since the suspects were parked behind Chili's, the investigators believe there was a possibility that the men were planning on robbing Chili's, said Hirokawa.

"There's a chance they were in here before [the Hamasushi robbery], not to eat but to wander and look around," said Jeff Evans, Chili's manager. "Evidently they decided Hamasushi would get their business and not us."

The whole incident took less than 10 minutes, but the effects on the employees have been lasting.

"All the people who had a gun pointed at them could not sleep at all [Saturday or Sunday night]," Kim said.

Hamasushi's is tightening its security as a result of the incident. The security cameras in the restaurant have all been repaired, and all the rear doors will remain locked, Ignacio said.

The restaurant is also looking into forming a partnership with Chili's and Cicero's Pizza, the two neighboring restaurants, to hire a security guard to patrol the area.

"I don't know if we're going to do [the partnership for a security guard]," Evans said. "I look at it as a rare thing at this point. We're just looking into double checking our security procedures and make sure we do everything to avoid it."

Anyone with information is being asked to call the sheriff's detective division at 299-2211.
Michelle Ku

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