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Sarasota restaurateurs open new sushi location after years of delays

"If you set your mind to it, you will find a way," says Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi Grill co-owner Jeffrey Karasawa.

  • By Lesley Dwyer
  • | 5:00 a.m. January 16, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Co-owners Jeffrey Karasawa and Jason Klamson met by the mailboxes in their neighborhood, Polo Run.
Co-owners Jeffrey Karasawa and Jason Klamson met by the mailboxes in their neighborhood, Polo Run.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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There are delays for restaurant openings and then there's the story behind Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi Grill. The opening of a Tsunami in Lakewood Ranch, to complement a downtown Sarasota location, was delayed more than three years. That came not only from the expected — COVID-19, two hurricanes — but the unexpected, namely an alligator attack.

The wait was so long — a “Coming Soon” sign was initially hung in the window in 2020 — that some would-be customers tried to beat the opening date: co-owner Jeffrey Karasawa says the doorknobs were broken off three times from people yanking on them.

“Someone called us (at our downtown Sarasota location) and said, ‘I’m standing in front of your Lakewood Ranch location. When is it opening? I’m not leaving until you give me a date,’” co-owner Jason Klamson adds.

Tsunami is finally past the delays, and the opening of the restaurant, 11627 State Road 70 E., Lakewood Ranch, was set for Jan. 20.

Karasawa and entrepreneur Sam Ray bought into the first Tsunami in downtown Sarasota in 2013 and bought out the original owner in 2016. Klamson came on board in 2022.

All three partners live in Polo Run in east Manatee County. That's where the alligator comes into play. Ray was attacked by an alligator during a game of catch in his backyard in April 2022. The ball fell close to the lake, and he didn’t see the alligator until he reached down to grab it.

The alligator lunged at his hand and yanked him into the water. Ray fought back. One punch was enough for the alligator to retreat. Ray crawled away with a dislocated shoulder and major hand injuries. It took three surgeries and about a year to recover.

“He had to learn to do everything with the other hand,” Klamson says.

"Everything" includes woodworking, painting, sewing and even growing coral. Ray is responsible for every aspect of the decor at Tsunami, down to the design of the fish tanks.

The mezzanine of the Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi Grill in Lakewood Ranch is designed to be used as an event space.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

Those, too, caused a delay. During the pressure test to check the space’s air barrier system, the first set of fish tanks shattered. The tanks that now divide the bar from the dining area passed the test and are filled with tropical fish and Ray’s homegrown coral.

Ray also built the pagoda that sits over the tank area, sewed the drapes, hung the wallpaper and hand folded the origami lamp shades.

Look up over the sushi bar and five painted panels come together to form a massive wave with the Tsunami logo. Ray wanted more texture in the piece, so he added rice to the paint.

Two hurricanes — Ian and Idalia — were among the factors that caused delays. Ian especially was troublesome as the construction crew left for four months to work in Fort Myers. Remnants of the Category 4 hurricane can be seen from the bar, main dining area and mezzanine. Ray salvaged two downed trees, an Indian rosewood and a live oak and carved shelves, counter tops and decorative fish out of them.

He glued fake cherry blossoms to the branches and added them to the massive chandelier that hangs over the dining room.

The most intricate of Ray’s woodworking projects was the “kumiko” that adorns the windows. Kumiko is a traditional Japanese art that dates back to 600 AD. Thin pieces of wood are placed in patterns that form expressions like “peace” and “love.”

Ray designed another version of kumiko in gold tape for the mezzanine area, which is the event space. A projector screen can be pulled down for presentations.

Two 400-gallon fish tanks divide the bar from the dining room.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

“We didn’t know this project was going to turn out this way. It was set to open last year,” Karasawa says. “I think the universe was telling us, when it’s time to happen, it will happen. It throws you obstacles here and there and makes you curve around them.”

The decor and the size of the restaurant are the major differences between the Lakewood Ranch restaurant and the original Tsunami in Sarasota. The Lakewood Ranch location can seat nearly double the diners, but the menu will be familiar to regulars.

“We want to stay the same at the beginning but then slowly, slowly change,” Karasawa says.

The chefs are ready to go. Given the delays, management has kept them busy catering and filling in downtown. Patrons can expect the same six-page dining menu, but the wine and bar menu will look slightly different.

“There’s going to be higher-end wines. We’re going to introduce a lot of things by the bottle,” Klamson says. “We want to cater to the different tastes out here. A lot of these homes are built with wine cellars, and people know their wines.”

The endeavor didn’t come without stress. The monthly rent of $15,000 felt especially steep during the summer months, but they endured through extra catering.

Klamson says a large part of the reason they expanded into Lakewood Ranch was because so many of their downtown Sarasota customers moved to the area and wanted a more convenient location. “If you set your mind to it, Karasawa says, "you will find a way,”

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