It was in June of 2021 when Sam Ray, the owner of Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi, talked about his restaurant's anticipated opening at The Green in Lakewood Ranch by the end of that year.
It was encouraging news to the other tenants at The Green, who were excited about the traffic it would drive into the shopping center. When Winn-Dixie opened in November 2020, several of the other tenants experienced a boost in business.
The "Coming soon" sign was up for Tsunami, just as it had been before for Irish 31 Pub & Eatery, which never opened in that space at The Green. So when Tsunami didn't open in 2021, tenants were once again disappointed.
A year later, the excitement has returned, as Ray and his restaurant have overcome supply chain issues that delayed construction. He said Tsunami will open next month.
Ray, who also owns a Tsunami in Sarasota, is excited as he said the Lakewood Ranch area doesn't have many restaurants that serve sushi, and also have late night hours.
“Construction is always delayed, especially now,” Ray said of the current environment.
Construction worker shortages also were responsible for the delays and Ray said construction material costs tripled. Some materials were not available at all.
Nonetheless, with interior construction in the final stages, his restaurant is on the cusp of opening.
The restaurant will feature a full-size cocktail bar with a huge fish tank, a sushi bar, and a mezzanine area for live music and entertainment.
The seating capacity will be 165, including the outdoor patio.
Although the restaurant will feature a family-friendly vibe during the day, Ray said after 10 p.m., the lights will dim and patrons will experience a change in atmosphere as the music will shift to a faster, adult vibe with the opportunity to dance. He plans to stay open until 2 a.m.
“It’s one of the things we don’t have,” he said of late-night food and entertainment in Lakewood Ranch.
Ray said his food will be a major draw as well. That includes the sushi rolls, which he said are a product of his staff's outstanding creativity. The head chef will be Alan Yu.
Yu, Ray said, begins the quality process by being picky when buying fish.
“A lot of people serve these frozen pieces of fish that they have had in their cabinet for too long," Ray said. "We don't do that.”
Becoming a sushi chef at the restaurant also demands commitment. Ray said it takes roughly three years of experience just to learn how to cook the rice properly.
“Until you can get the rice perfectly, you can’t start as a chef,” he said.
After mastering the rice, trainees can move on to cutting the vegetables.
For instance, he said there is a lot of work goes into preparing the julienned cucumbers so that they do not overpower the flavor of the fish.
Ray said his current favorite roll on the menu is Hot Mama, which brings together tempura grouper, crab, avocado, tuna, cucumber, and baby scallops.
He said the sushi bar has been designed to mirror ones traditionally found in Japan.
“You don’t sit up high, because the sushi chef is supposed to be overseeing everything,” he said. “It’ll be just like sitting at a table, it won’t be awkward. If you look at really fancy sushi bars, it’s like this — you look up at your chef.”
The reef tank will feature live coral which Ray is currently growing at home, as well as popular aquarium fish.
According to Ray, one of the defining features of the restaurant will be its customer service.
“We work hard to make sure that every guest is taken care of,” he said of the Sarasota location. “We have patrons that come back that we know as family.”
Most servers, he said, have worked with the Sarasota restaurant for 8-10 years.
“They know what they're doing. They know how to answer any questions. And they're knowledgeable about our products,” he said.
The design of the interior will feature themed décor, including a wall of spinning lanterns. The area behind the sushi bar will feature a tile mosaic of fish.
The setting will also be topped off with one of Ray’s own designs, a large bamboo light fixture with some greenery, that will hang above the room.