COVID-19, two hurricanes and an alligator attack delayed the opening of Tsunami Sushi & Hibachi Grill, but the restaurant is now set to open Jan. 20 at 11627 State Road 70 E., Lakewood Ranch.
The “Coming Soon” sign has been hung in the window since 2020, and the public’s impatience is showing. Co-owner Jeffrey Karasawa said the doorknobs have broken off three times already from people yanking on them.
“Someone called us downtown 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 said.
Karasawa and 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, where 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 said.
“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.
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.
He 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 cause 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.
“We didn’t know this project was going to turn out this way. It was set to open last year,” Karasawa said. “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 said.
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 said. “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 said 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, you will find a way,” Karasawa said.
Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.