East-West divide at Gonpachi

THE mega-battle between East and West at Japanese mega-restaurant Gonpachi that saw a recent employee exodus has resulted in a management upheaval and two new chefs.

“We’re in the middle of reorganizing now,” says new general manager Kiyoshi Sagawa. “We’re going to split the restaurant. It’s going to be two restaurants in one. One section we call ‘sushi Gonpachi,’ the other is the ‘sumiyaki Gonpachi,’ ” referring to the grilled items on the menu. Tom Dries, a former manager at Sona, Tower Bar and Ortolan, is assisting Sagawa with management.

The $18-million, 11,000-square-foot restaurant opened in March, and conflicts between Japanese and American management had escalated since then, says Gonpachi publicist Joan Luther. Some of the problems were as seemingly trivial as whether or not to greet customers with “Irashaimase!” (Japanese management wanted it, but the Americans didn’t, according to Luther.)


“The schism just got broader and broader,” Luther says.

Nile Park, head of the U.S. division of Global Dining Inc., the parent company of Gonpachi, Monsoon Cafe and La Boheme in Los Angeles, left this month along with general manager Ako M. Denis, the executive chef, the sous-chef and three other managers.

“Let’s just say there was complete dissatisfaction with the way top management in Japan has run the company,” Park says.

Executive chef Yukio Sakai and sous-chef Craig Takehara, both from erstwhile Beverly Hills tofu restaurant Umenohana, have been succeeded by Yasu Kusano, who had worked for a flagship Gonpachi restaurant in Tokyo, and sushi chef Masa Yamamoto, who also worked for Gonpachi in Tokyo and at Ginza-district sushi restaurant Hagiwara. The new chefs will spearhead some planned changes to the menu.

“It just didn’t work out well,” Sagawa says. “We don’t aim to bring only a Japanese style, but [the former employees] just didn’t fit our restaurant. It happens.”

-- Betty Hallock


Small Bites

* Brooks opened this month in Ventura. Chef-owner Andy Brooks -- most recently chef de cuisine at DC Coast in Washington, D.C., and before that executive sous-chef at Naha in Chicago -- offers modern American fare such as cornmeal fried oysters with celery root slaw and 24-hour-marinated short ribs with olive oil parsnip puree.

545 E. Thompson Blvd., Ventura, (805) 652-7070.

* Salt Creek Grille has opened in the South Bay. The menu features American classics such as mesquite grilled baby back ribs and herb roasted chicken with horseradish mashed potatoes.

Salt Creek Grille, 2015 E. Park Place, El Segundo, (310) 335-9288.

* Grace chef Neal Fraser is putting a new spin on his tasting menus. Now called “Close to Home,” the five-course menu, available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, will highlight local products. (Local in this case means within 400 miles.) The menu will change from week to week but might include dishes such as sauteed Santa Barbara prawns with sunchoke puree.

7360 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 934-4400.

* Every other Wednesday is “Wino Wednesday” at Upstairs 2, the year-old restaurant on the top floor of the Wine House wine retailer. Chef Todd Barrie creates a four-course menu inspired by a particular region, and sommelier Marilyn Snee chooses four wines from that region to pair. Reservations required.

2311 Cotner Ave., West L.A., (310) 231-0316.