BY ELLIE HENSLEY
A successful restaurateur is on a roll with the opening of a new sushi and Japanese eatery in the district.
Takashi Otsuka opened Nagomiya, which means “House of Tranquility,” on the ground floor of Tens on West in June 2021. It is his fourth restaurant location in Atlanta, and his first in the heart of Midtown, situated at 10th and West Peachtree Streets.
We spoke to Otsuka about what it took for him to make it in the restaurant industry, opening during the COVID-19 pandemic and why he chose Midtown for his latest restaurant concept.
The interior. of Nagomiya, which means "House of Tranquility."
Otsuka was born and raised in Japan, and did not move to the United States until he was a young adult. He lived in Decatur with his aunt and uncle who owned restaurants, which is where he developed an interest in the industry.
“That’s how it started — I remember working as a dishwasher the day I arrived,” Otsuka said.
He began by learning the basics of cooking and sushi-making, but he always dreamed of owning his own restaurant. When he entered the country, he didn’t speak English, so he took English as a Second Language (ESL) classes before going on to study hospitality at Georgia State University.
Nagomiya Owner Takashi Otsuka behind the sushi bar at his restaurant.
After working at a few restaurants as a sushi chef and manager, Otsuka opened his first restaurant, Wagaya, in West Midtown in 2015. The casual spot was a huge hit, so he opened a second location in Emory Village in 2017.
“What’s unique about it is I was the only investor and operator,” he said. “From the interior design to the menus, I was the one who came up with the concept.”
Next Otsuka opened Chirori next to the original Wagaya on 14th Street. This restaurant, which he describes as a “passion project,” specialized in sake pairings with various Japanese dishes.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States only eight months after its debut. Rather than shuttering the space entirely, Otsuka decided to convert it into a Japanese grocery store called Wagaya Groceries.
“It was definitely an abrupt, improvised decision,” he said. “But I’m so happy that we did it, because it’s doing well. There was no Asian grocery store in Downtown or Midtown, and people are very happy to be able to buy these products without having to travel to Buford Highway.”
Throughout this time, Otsuka was already planning for his next restaurant, and he felt himself drawn back to the Midtown area. This time he saw an opening for a sushi and ramen spot in the business district.
“We wanted to get there first so we could be competitive in the future,” Otsuka said. “I knew there would be more sushi and ramen restaurants, and there are already a couple ramen spots, but the market [for sushi] was wide open.”
Otsuka also described the Midtown area as “up and coming,” with Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft and Google announcing huge office deals and job expansions in the area even in the midst of the pandemic.
A Distinctive Sushi Experience
Permitting and COVID-19 delays ultimately helped Otsuka get focused on how he wanted to set Nagomiya apart from his other restaurants.
“Many people have wondered why I wanted to open another restaurant less than a mile away from Wagaya [West Midtown],” Otsuka said. “Nagomiya is a little higher end, and the atmosphere is nicer. Wagaya is already packed. Here we wanted to offer the same great experience, with a different level of service and for a different experience.”
Nagomiya can accommodate larger groups of people and is better suited for a date night or business lunch, but it’s still affordable compared to many upscale sushi spots.
In addition to classic sushi rolls, Nagomiya offers creative rolls such as the “Kiss of Juju” (crunchy scallop tempura and avocado topped with scallops, salmon and strawberries) and the “Cucumber Summer Breeze” (a cucumber roll with tuna, salmon, hamachi, shrimp, avocado and yuzu tobiko). Its fanciest rolls include The Wagyu (made with Wagyu beef from Japan, soft-shell crab and lobster), Truffle on Toro (tuna with cucumber, black truffle slices, jalapeño and cucumber), and the Sexy Langosta (made with Lobster tempura, lobster salad, shrimp, cucumber and avocado).
Otsuka said his can’t-miss menu item of the moment actually isn’t sushi at all — it’s the Lobster Ramen.
“The Lobster Ramen has people buzzing,” he said. “We put one entire lobster in the ramen, it’s like a lobster swimming in the ramen bowl. And it’s limited availability.”
The biggest challenge of being a new business during COVID-19 continues to be the lunch crowd, Otuska said.
“Please come visit us during lunch,” he said. “The people we can serve during lunch is limited because people don’t travel miles away for lunch, so we’ve had some difficulty. Hopefully students and office workers start to return soon.”
Midtown businesses like Nagomiya have missed you just as much as you have missed them. When you’re ready to come back, please show your support to local restaurants and their hard-working owners and staffers. From posting a positive Yelp review to posting pics of your meal on social media, there are many ways you can show how you "Love Local." Head over to this page for a list of ideas and to read more profiles of Midtown business owners.