BRADENTON -- If it's Japanese and hip, it's all about Izakaya, which according to a growing number of culinary experts, is bringing the traditional sushi bar industry to its knees. And it's coming to Bradenton's Old Main Street under the expertise of Chef Harvey Lovejoy.
Lovejoy will bring a wealth of cooking experience to his Izakaya Nazuka sushi restaurant at 417 12th St. W., the current location of Jeanne's Bistro, which is moving next to the Main Street Market. The second part of the restaurant's name is dedicated to Lovejoy's Japanese grandfather, Sadaichi Nazuka of Otaru-shi. Lovejoy was born of an American father and Japanese mother.
Lovejoy had been running a successful 65-seat restaurant in Atlanta when unrelated circumstances forced him to close. His mother urged him to come to Florida to open a Japanese restaurant and he has been looking for the perfect location for the last few years.
"I want to get it open and get my mother down here to see it," said Lovejoy. "It's named after her side of the family to honor her and she's getting up there in age, so I want her to see what her suggestion has led to."
An Izakaya is a casual dining experience where customers have a choice of traditional seating or can sit on tatami mats and dine from low tables in the traditional Japanese style of eating, but with the added family flair of dinner sharing. The typical meal is a variety of small plates designed to allow the diner to sample many different dishes within a casual atmosphere of drinks and conversation.
Lovejoy doesn't call it a restaurant or a bar, rather a place where friends come together. It's not a new Japanese style. The Izakaya style of dining dates to 1603 when simple teahouses sold dishes of simmered foods. In urban areas of Japan, the places began to stay open late, Lovejoy said, "And so the friendly neighborhood tavern was born."
The award-winning Lovejoy's recent tenure in a kitchen was Palmetto's Blu Mangrove Grill. He has served as executive chef for Hilton Hotels and cooked for celebrities such as Robert Redford and Michelle Pfeiffer, while executive chef of Carolco Movie Studios in North Carolina. He has all of his equipment ready to go and plans to remodel the restaurant this month with hopes plans to open no later than the second week of April.
It's going to be an upscale Japanese experience using modern cooking techniques but with an affordable menu. Lovejoy said he also will offer plenty of traditional Japanese dishes for those unwilling to go outside the box of an Izakaya experience. He's excited to be on Old Main Street, something he has been trying to do for three years.
"I like the small town feel and knew it had to be an area with a lot of walk-through traffic," he said. "I knew I just had to wait my turn and I was standing right outside of this place when I heard that it was coming open. It's really weird how all this happened and I believe strongly in the vision Bradenton has to create more of an entertainment venue for downtown."
Business partner Emerick Polgar is an accomplished chef himself and when he saw an opportunity to partner with Lovejoy, he didn't hesitate.
"I've spent 35 years trying to get his skill set," said Polgar. "He has an incredible history and has been very successful in a high-volume setting. He's very selective on his approach in how he does things. Even with everything I know today, the only way to make myself a better chef is to associate myself with this guy."
Bradenton Downtown Development Authority Director Dave Gustafson said Lovejoy's diligence in securing an Old Main Street location has paid off for him, the city and the residents who will enjoy something special.
"We look forward to his grand opening and welcoming him to the neighborhood," said Gustafson.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.