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We turn our focus to Kanawha City this week, with a roundup of restaurant and market openings and, sadly, closings.

First up, reader Mark Curtis reached out to ask if I knew what was up with one of his favorite places, Kobe Asian Fusion, next to Kroger near The Shops at Kanawha.

“I’ve gotten takeout there for the past five weeks, and both takeout and in-person dining were busy,” he wrote a few days ago. “But a good friend has tried to call there the past five days and no one has answered.”

Sorry to be bearer of bad news, Mark, but I did a drive-by over the weekend and Kobe has indeed closed. Perhaps permanently, I’m afraid.

Although a peek in the window showed pretty much everything still intact inside, a piece of paper with just the single word “CLOSED” was taped to the door and the restaurant’s website and Facebook pages have been taken down.

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Just a few blocks away on MacCorkle Avenue, many readers are also wondering what’s going on with Hooters, now that the outside patio area has been demolished and a peek in the windows showed the place in disarray inside. (The restaurant known for saucy wings and waitresses has been closed since the start of COVID-19 last spring.)

Rumors are swirling that there’s a new restaurant moving in — an Omelet Shoppe, Waffle House, Chick-fil-A or various and sundry others, depending on who you listen to. As is the case with rumors.

But a former employee there says this Hooters is just undergoing some mandatory construction and upgrades to keep its corporate franchise intact. Sure enough, the national Hooters website does still list the Kanawha City location as an active franchise, but it also states the place is currently open. So there’s that.

The restaurant’s Facebook page, which also shows hours indicating it’s currently open, did reply to a fan’s comment just a few days ago saying they still “hope to reopen when it is safe.”

Anyone have the real scoop?

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My hunt for a pinch of the exotic (and expensive!) spice saffron for an Italian pasta dish I made for dinner Sunday evening took me to Spice of Life, an international grocery and spice market in Kanawha City offering unusual ethnic food products and ingredients that you really can’t find anywhere else.

And lots of them!

I’d heard about this spot when it first opened, but this visit was my first. I was pleasantly surprised to find not just a shop, but an actual small grocery store full of hundreds and hundreds of items in multiple aisles and refrigerated cases.

Offering everything from meats, cheeses, dairy and frozen food to breads, desserts, dry goods, sauces and spices, its selection of exotic items was WAY bigger than I expected.

I left that day with only my scant $5 pinch of saffron threads, but I can’t wait to go back and load up my cart with intriguing flavors from around the world.

IF YOU GO: Spice of Life, located at 3808 MacCorkle Ave. SE in Kanawha City (they recently moved from their original storefront at 5528 MacCorkle Ave. SE), is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Wednesday. For more information, call 681-265-3835 or visit the market’s Facebook page.

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In related news, just down the road, there’s a sign on the former International Groceries and Spices storefront at 5304 MacCorkle Ave. SE saying, “Opening Soon: Pacific International Market from California.”

Although no date was included on the sign, the business was granted a license in July 2020 (right after International Groceries closed) and a reference online announces an expected opening of Jan. 20, just one week from today.

So I also did a drive-by there as well. (I’ve peeked in so many windows this week, it’s a wonder I didn’t get arrested.) While the shelves are partially stocked with products, I suspect that opening date may be pushed back.

The former, and much beloved, international market located there closed permanently last summer when longtime owners Harish and Meena Anada retired and moved out of state.

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Finally, I’ve been disappointed in the cavalier approach some local restaurants are taking with COVID-19 safety protocols of late, especially when it comes to improper (or lack of) mask-wearing.

So how refreshing it was to see just the opposite this past week.

During a visit to Tidewater Grill at Charleston Town Center mall to enjoy a happy hour drink and half-priced app, I noticed the host working the front of house going above and beyond to ensure all guests entering the restaurant were not only wearing a mask, but kept it on until they were seated.

This involved stopping some people at the door, politely asking them to put on masks and gently reminding them they could not enter the restaurant until doing so.

During a time when restaurants are hurting for business, it takes guts to potentially offend or alienate some customers who are trying to support you. But it’s absolutely the right approach right now and I couldn’t have been more impressed with this young man.

I forgot to get his name to thank him publicly, but good on you Mr. Host!

Steven Keith is a food writer and restaurant critic known as “The Food Guy” who writes a weekly column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail and has appeared in several state, regional and national culinary publications. Follow him online at www.wvfoodguy.com or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest as “WV Food Guy.” He can be reached at 304-380-6096 or at wvfoodguy@aol.com.