First Look: Uroko
Komé’s Kayo and Také Asazu keep customers coming back with home-style Japanese cooking
by Regine Malibiran
Photographs by Chelsea Steele
With six restaurants under their belt, wife and husband duo Kayo and Také Asazu remain steadfast in their mission to maintain an approachable Japanese dining experience for their customers and community.
Both the Asazus have deep ties to food. Také Asazu grew up in the rich food culture of his hometown, Osaka. Kayo Asazu was raised in Kobe, a city world-famous for its beef, by parents who were always eager to try new cuisines.
Despite their growing successes in the food industry, Kayo and Také Asazu faced doubts early in their careers in the United States. They immigrated as adults 15 years ago and English is not their native language.
“When I graduated, I didn’t feel like I could just go to work with native English speakers because my English may not be good enough. I thought of that as our weakness,” Kayo Asazu reveals. “But when I started looking for my strengths, I thought about our cultural background and cooking skills that other people don’t have here. So why not use those strengths and share with people who never experienced that? That was my encouragement and passion.”
Before opening Komé, their first brick-and-mortar restaurant, Kayo and Také Asazu ran a catering business called Deli Bento. Because they were both still working full-time at other restaurants, they were only open on the weekends. Také Asazu fondly remembers mornings with his son at a farmers’ market where they served sushi. Back then, the young child would walk around the crowd with a platter of food in order to entice potential customers to visit his parents’ stand. After four years of saving up, they were able to purchase a food trailer, Sushi-A-Go-Go.
At the time, Také Asazu was transitioning out of his role at Uchi so his wife took the helm while also caring for their young children. She recalls holding her children’s hands while shopping at the wholesale market and occasionally having to put up a “Back Soon” sign on the trailer in order to drop her daughter off at her friend’s house.
Several years of saving, busy weekends and many creative childcare solutions later, the couple opened Komé in 2011 with a clear vision: to serve food from their own family table and keep their restaurant approachable. Komé’s menu contains several dishes that Kayo Asazu ate with her family growing up, including tonpeiyaki, which is a cabbage omelet with pork belly.
During her time as a server, she realized that most customers only eat Japanese food to celebrate a life event. Since Japanese food has always been deeply tied to family for the duo, they aim to redefine the prevalent Japanese dining experience through their restaurants.
“In this country, how you eat depends on where you live but mostly on how much money you make, which I feel is wrong,” asserts Kayo Asazu. “Anybody should have access to have any food they want. Our mission is to make Japanese cuisine as affordable as possible.”
Maintaining the balance between being approachable and affordable while still preserving a high quality of food, service and ambiance is one of the Asazus’ biggest challenges. They solve this problem at every level of their restaurants by combining their strengths: Kayo Asazu’s operational and hospitality skills paired with Také Asazu’s resourcefulness in the kitchen.
“After five restaurants, we realized that using our creativity to make food approachable without using the cheapest ingredients is something we’re good at,” Kayo Asazu shares with the easy confidence of someone who firmly believes in the impact and value of their work.
The couple’s latest venture, Uroko, is a unique opportunity for them to flex their creativity alongside another Uchi alum, Masazumi Saio. Set to open this spring in Springdale General, Uroko’s concept is three-pronged: temaki (sushi hand rolls), sushi classes and weekend omakase (chef’s choice) nights. Také Asazu is particularly excited about the freedom that Uroko will give him as a chef. At their current restaurants, introducing a new dish to the menu can take a transition period of a few weeks. With Uroko, the sushi chefs are able to go to market in the morning, choose an ingredient and put it on the menu that same night.
Kayo Asazu also teased future plans of bringing Sushi-A-Go-Go back (she still has a lot of branded t-shirts in storage). Fans of the sushi trailer should keep their eyes peeled for a Sushi-A-Go-Go location in the airport, which the couple aims to open toward the end of the year.