Tomo Restaurant - Nara
Tell us a little about yourself and your venture into the bar and restaurant business?
I’ve been in the restaurant industry for about 14 years. I opened my first restaurant at the age of 23 which lasted 6 months, but that failure was what motivated me to work even harder and smarter. It helped me launch Ginza Ramen many years later on Elgin which I later sold. It also helped to grow Wontonmama, which eventually evolved into Tomo.
What was the inspiration behind Tomo Sushi?
Tomo Sushi has a combined 40-plus years of experience behind the sushi bar. Most of the partners used to be chefs. We wanted to do something that would be great and consistent every time it’s ordered. From selecting the type of seaweed, type of rice, fish and our in house blend of soy sauce everything has been thought through.
Did you always work in the restaurant business?
Before the restaurant industry I was in retail which is not a far stretch since it is also the service industry. You name it, I probably worked there. A lot of my customer service and sales skills come from those retail years.
You have a lot of authentic décor in your restaurant was this something that was planned before opening or collected along the way?
Before designing and building Tomo we took trips to Montreal and Toronto to research restaurants in addition to others all over the world. We were inspired by what we liked from each to create our own. Some of the decor was planned and some we collected during the planning process. The design is the work of design firm Iron and Ivory headed by Kayla Pongrac who also designed Fairouz, Ace Mercado and the recently opened Lollo on George Street.
Tomo gets a little livelier on the weekends. How has it worked being a restaurant that also has a night scene and are there challenges?
We did not anticipate we would be as popular late night and had to adjust as we went along. We are and will always be a restaurant first. During the first year it was tough, as we went along we realized “Okay, we need a vip host, now we need 5 bottles, service girls, 4 bartenders, 2 bar backs, security.” What Tomo is after 10pm on Friday and Saturday night was never planned and just something we adjusted to.
When you aren’t busy with Tomo (we assume that is rare) what do you do to unwind?
I am a huge movie guy… I almost go and see a movie once a week. It’s a great mental escape to stop thinking about everything and only about what you are seeing on the screen, and a rare time in life when you stop using and looking at your phone (which I am really bad at). Another thing I love to do is check out new restaurants that have just opened up and analyze everything and play a little game in my head “what are they doing really well? ” ,”what can they be better at?” and see if any of those apply to my current businesses.
How has Ottawa supported Tomo Sushi?
Ottawa has been amazing, from lunch, dinner and late night, to UberEATS, all speak to the amount of how ottawa has been behind us.
Are there any businesses in Ottawa that you share your success with or have helped make Tomo what it is today?
Every business in the market is like a friendly neighbour, we have helped and also been helped by every single one from when we need more ice, pop bibs, wine glasses, random ingredients, the list goes on forever.
What is next for Tomo or you? Will there be any additions, changes or events?
For Tomo we plan to maintain the quality of food, service and atmosphere. If a restaurant is successful those are the three that always fall off. We are always looking to evolve and do different projects. One of our partners just opened “Banh Mi Girl” on Dalhousie which is doing really well, I am also a partner of “Chatime” in Chinatown and have started working with a Gatineau-based Artist in Residence Distillerie on my own Gin Spirit called Wanderlust. Tomo will be part of this community for many years, every special moment in life can be celebrated with us, from your first date to the bachelorette party.
What is one menu item that you would recommend for someone who has never been to Tomo Sushi?
The one menu item I would recommend everyone try is the Tomo slaw. Everything is made from scratch including the sauce we use, it’s light, refreshing and delicious.