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