Downtown salivating over soon-to-arrive Kengo sushiWritten by Joel Sensenig | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Josh Wagy and Kengo Kato hope to make a large splash in the Toledo dining scene with their small sushi restaurant set to open soon.
The respective food blogger and classically trained sushi chef are almost ready to debut Kengo Sushi & Yakitori, a traditional sushi and yakitori restaurant at 38 S. St. Clair St. The two have been working on the Warehouse District space since last summer, and are anxious to make their debut.
“[Kato] and I are so passionate, and we get along so well,” said Wagy, who many in the Toledo culinary world know best as the man behind Smashing Toledo, a foodie website and social media page. “He’s never really been in a position to really showcase his skills. He’s classically trained — his techniques are really phenomenal. He needs his own space to really show off.”
Kengo, a 1,000-square-foot spot with seating for about 20 customers, will provide him with the means to display his skills behind the sushi bar.
The business began to take shape last year after Wagy persuaded Kato — who had been offered a job in Denver — to stay in Toledo with a proposal to run a restaurant with him. The two found affordable rent and the small space they were looking for on South St. Clair Street, in the building that most recently housed Fine Things Bistro.
Although the entrepreneurs originally planned to open in the fall, things didn’t fall together as quickly as they had hoped. The kitchen needed a complete hood system, which took time and money to install.
“To build a full restaurant in three months is unbelievably optimistic,” Wagy said. “We’re probably about two and a half months behind schedule.”
Still, the two are getting the establishment ready for inspections and plan to open very shortly after getting the go-ahead from the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department and the City’s Division of Building Inspection.
Once open, Wagy hopes to wow diners with Kengo’s traditional Japanese fare, which will be heavy on yakitori, which means grilled chicken, as well as skewered food in general. He said the food will immediately set the restaurant apart from others in the Toledo area.
“You will see yakitori on some menus as an appetizer,” Wagy said. “But no one’s traditionally doing yakitori, not on a yakitori grill, not using traditional yakitori sauces.”
Food will be served on wooden platters, created by local craftsman Craig Mossing.
The food itself must be fresh, as Kengo does not have a walk-in cooler or freezer.
“I really want to work with local farmers and stay local,” Kato previously told Toledo Free Press. “I will work with Honolulu and Japan and all over the U.S. I have guys that will deliver [meat] daily and in Livonia there’s a warehouse where I will personally go pick it up. I just want to do everything fresh.”
Kato was born and raised in New York City. His parents owned two Japanese restaurants in the city, where he worked from a young age. As an adult, he worked in a traditional Japanese restaurant for seven years and helped other people open restaurants, but this endeavor will be the first time he has opened up his own restaurant.
“We’re going back to Kengo’s roots,” Wagy said. “Classic, not Americanized. We’re not deep-frying anything. We don’t have a deep fryer. No cream cheese. If we do a California roll, we won’t call it a California roll — it will actually have real lump crab in it, not imitation things.”
Most items on the constantly changing menu will be á la carte, with skewers of yakitori priced at about $3 and pieces of fish in the $3-$5 range.
“We’re just really excited,” Wagy said. “We kind of want to push the food scene a little bit. It’s a small enough place where hopefully we can be passionate enough to take Toledo on a new sushi adventure.”
Kengo plans on having sake on tap, along with several American craft beers in the pilsner and Kölsch styles to fit the delicate flavors of the Japanese food.
For more information, visit kengotoledo.com.