Justin Velgus

Retro Style Coffee Shop Benny in Sendai

Old-fashioned cafe culture, smoking included

Justin Velgus
Justin Velgus   - 5 min read

Everything about Coffee Shop Benny (喫茶ベニー) is old: the aging building, the retro interior, the classic menu, even the owners. The shop has a special kind of rustic charm which I imagine must have been considerably more appealing when the coffee shop opened for business in the early 1950s. From the exterior, the lack of signage and drawn curtains makes the shop looked closed, or even abandoned due to a lack of maintenance. When I mentioned to one of the owners that I thought the cafe had a unique warmth they unashamedly confessed, "Thank you, but there are a lot of things that need to be fixed up". Combine these factors with no official website and inconsistent hours, and you could very well call the shop a hidden cafe. Your hunt will be well rewarded because once you step inside, you'll be sure to find treasure.

Image of Benny Coffee Shop from across the street
Image of Benny Coffee Shop from across the street

Coffee Shop Benny is decorated with wooden furniture, retro lighting and plenty of knickknacks to keep your eyes busy while dining. It is a feast for the eyes that I’ll let you discover on your own, with just a few glimpses from my photos. The café is divided into two small areas, with large windows on one side to let in some natural light. A radio tuned to the local station almost blocks out the noise from a low rumbling heater or perhaps furnace behind a closed door. A heavy smoke drifts through the air during my lunchtime visit. This is one of the increasingly few cafes which still allows customers to smoke in the entire shop. This is great news for smokers, not so for non-smokers like me as the place is not spacious nor well-ventilated. Thankfully the welcoming voice of the proprietress cuts through the smoke and background music as she hurriedly caters to the needs of customers.

The wooden all carving and old retro lighting
The wooden all carving and old retro lighting

The coffee shop has a surprising variety of dishes and drinks given its small size. Japanese café classics such as sandwiches, spaghetti and curry make the list. Beef bowls are a surprise. Online reviews seem to rave for the old-school style crème sodas, which I will need to try next time. Coffee and more limited tea selections are simple, but suffice. Overall, the quality of my lunch set was good but nothing special. It was not cheap, nor expensive, but fairly priced. So what’s the appeal of the café, especially if you don’t smoke?

As I sit there sipping my coffee and nibbling my sandwich, admiring the fancy tableware as much as the interior decorations, it dawned on me that a place like this probably won’t be around for much longer. In the old days cafés were busy with students discussing ideas, citizens debating politics, and eager patrons ready experience the excitement of western cuisine and culture. During my visit I saw a business lunch meeting, a man paying more attention to his smartphone than his food, and an older professor-looking type indulging in a modern manga comic while smoking cigarettes. I guess we all like cafes for different reasons and certainly all types of customers are welcome here. Times change. Perhaps the reason I liked Coffee Shop Benny was it was a time capsule of something old and in transition, plus the simple food and drinks in a retro atmosphere. Let me know what you think on your visit.

A simple mixed sandwich
A simple mixed sandwich

The name “Benny” may sound similar to Sendai locals. The Bennyland Amusement Park (located next to Yagiyama Zoo) seems to be the parent company of the Benny Building the café is housed in.

Coffee Shop Benny is open for lunch until early dinner, closing around 6:30pm or 7:00pm, with occasional unannounced off days and times. It is located near Tohoku Gakuin University and Tohoku University Katahira campus, so there are students and other eateries in the area catering to them. Yet, just one or two other cafes.

Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is the Miyagi Prefecture Partner for Japan Travel and a longterm contributor since 2012 with a focus on the Tohoku region.  Justin has written extensively for JT, and other publications such as VisitMiyagi and Sake Today, amassing over 350 published articles...