by Mel Selcho
Good food, good dad
Wagaya owner Takashi Otsuka shares his vision of holiday sushi and home schooling
LONG-KNOWN AS the defining place for ramen in Atlanta, Wagaya brings a lot more to the table.
Owner and visionary, Takashi Otsuka, who came to Atlanta from Japan for college, began a hospitality career working for his uncle and aunt (former owners of Sushi Avenue) as a dishwasher and making his way to chef.
He opened Wagaya in 2015 in West Midtown and a second site near Emory in 2017. With a completely new concept, Chirori became his third restaurant. This summer as an adaptation to the pandemic, Wagaya Groceries opened directly below the flagship.
Otsuka joins us for a behind-the-scenes peek at his restaurant and family life, plus what we can look forward to in 2021.
How did you decide to start Wagaya?
I always had trouble finding authentic Japanese restaurants in Atlanta. And the few times I did, it was way too expensive.
My idea for Wagaya was to provide authentic Japanese food in a casual setting with affordable prices. My customers should be able to visit every other day without breaking their bank account.
You have a 5-year-old daughter. How do you balance your professional life with your home life?
My weekly routine is to take care of my daughter for two days. Juggling two roles is like a non-stop snowball going down the mountain… It’s definitely easier now that virtual school started.
Being my own boss, I’m lucky because I can bring her to work with me at times. She can be very helpful restocking shelves at Wagaya Groceries.
How has this changed in 2020?
We have had to go through a lot so far this year with our businesses: Shutting down dine-in service, adjusting to a take-out-based model,
reviewing and cutting expenses, and re-opening.
As far as the schooling, I have spent more time with my daughter than before. Our favorite activity is an online learning program called Adapted Mind. Even before bedtime she asks me if she can do math problems. She likes earning points to dress up monsters as she gets the answers correct.
What do you want her to learn from you?
Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to get what you want. Your comfort zone is relaxing, but it’s not fulfilling and offers a minimal learning experience. She doesn’t need to be afraid to make mistakes, I’ll always support her.
What can we look forward to from you in 2021?
Nagomiya is slated to open in January. The concept is full-service, casual Japanese dining with ramen, rice bowl and sushi. The menu consists of less exotic items than Wagaya. I’m hoping to franchise and expand my food to different cities.
Besides your notable ramen, what’s special on the menu right now?
My favorite dish is “Kiss of Juju” (the first roll in the picture above) named after my daughter, Julia, who was a baby when I opened the first Wagaya. It’s fried scallop with avocado inside, topped with fresh scallop from Hokkaido and Scottish salmon. What makes this roll unique is the strawberry slices on top that look like lips.
Check out our “Holiday Family Meal” with two generous sushi platters and a complimentary roll of choice.
See wagaya.us and wagayagroceries.com for details and pre-ordering.