After a short vacancy following Muzio’s exit in April of this year, 857 Higuera St. has a new tenant. Raku, a Japanese fusion sushi restaurant, is the latest addition to the recently renovated Wineman Hotel building. Owner Tony Park said he wanted to bring something new and one-of-a-kind to San Luis Obispo.
- PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
“Not too many people are brave enough to do that,” Park said. “They just stick to whatever the other restaurants are doing.”
Park worked as a sushi chef in Los Angeles for 12 years, always with the intention of someday opening his own restaurant. When he saved enough cash to get the ball rolling on that dream, he began looking around the Los Angeles area for an affordable location. After searching for a while and not finding any reasonable spots, Park got a call from a friend about a restaurant closing in Grover Beach.
Park had no idea where Grover Beach was and had never been to the Central Coast, but he decided to make the trip anyway. He saw potential in the vacant spot, and the price was right, so he decided to take a chance, relocate his wife and kids, and start his first restaurant: Izakaya Raku.
Park describes his original business as a “mom-and-pop restaurant,” and he believes he was able to succeed because of the “quality of the food and loyalty of the customers.”
After a few years of serving sushi out of his Grover Beach location, the intrepid chef began searching for another spot in the hub of the Central Coast: San Luis Obispo. Once he found it, he sold Izakaya Raku to his head chef in Grover Beach and launched Raku.
“I want to make my own color with this restaurant,” said Park, and he’s taken a bold approach to just about every aspect of his new location. He was able to rally local designer Stephen Patrick, a frequent customer at his Grover Beach location, into designing the interior.
Park had one request for Patrick: “I didn’t want a Japanese look to the interior décor.”
Patrick was able to create a sensual atmosphere full of dramatic colors and abstract artwork that gives Raku more of the feel of a Hollywood lounge than a Japanese sushi joint. Dark red vinyl alligator skin stretches across the high-backed bench seating along one wall, and a painting of a tiger fighting a dragon beams out from behind the sushi bar. Patrick also brought in some abstract metal sculptures and added unique lighting elements, including illuminated bubbles that dangle from light fixtures.
Park also wanted his cuisine to break the mold of traditional Japanese sushi. To create his vision of “fusion,” Park hired Joe Shiihara, a former chef at Angelina French restaurant in Ginza, Japan, as well as Arigato Sushi in Santa Barbara to run
“He brings that French side to the table, and I bring the vision side and the traditional sushi, and we just mix it together,” Park said of his head chef.
Raku’s sushi rolls incorporate many non-traditional ingredients, including mangos, kiwis, and strawberries. There are also some unique sauces as well.
Park wanted to create a space that’s fun and brings people closer together.
“If you bring a date, I think after dining here, your relationship will get a little more intimate,” he said.
Raku is open from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 11:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. Thursday through Sunday at 857 Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo. For more information, call 544-RAKU (7258).
The Child Injury Prevention Coalition urges parents and caregivers to have their children’s car seats checked on National Seat Check Saturday on Sept. 24. As part of Child Passenger Safety Week, certified passenger safety technicians will be available to inspect car seats and provide free hands-on advice from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Target shopping center in San Luis Obispo off of Los Osos Valley Road. For more information, contact John Caudill at 781-7361 or Julissa Dyer at 541-3367.
Intern Jack Johnson compiled this week’s Strokes & Plugs. Send your business news to StrokesandPlugs@newtimesslo.com.