Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.
This week, we're talking to Genki owner Reid Zeising, who recently celebrated the first anniversary of the third location of his restaurant. It opened in May of last year in Virginia Highland, following Genki at the Prado which opened in late 2010 and the 1996 Buckhead location. Zeising took the time to talk with Eater Atlanta about what makes this location special, "Americanized" sushi, the possiblity of a food truck, and more.
You grew up in Tokyo, right? Did any of your childhood favorites make it onto the menu?
All of my childhood favorites made it to the menu— that was the idea behind Genki when we opened. I wrote down all of the dishes that were my favorites when I was growing up in Tokyo and included those regardless of whether or not the Japanese would have put them together on one menu. These are the traditional bowls and traditional rolls that we current offer.
What did you eat at home while you lived in Japan? How did the combination of American and Japanese cultures affect the menu at Genki? People tend to call your fare "Americanized" sushi— is that a moniker you embrace?
The basic staple in my childhood diet was rice, as opposed to the potatoes that are more commonly used here in the US. But we also ate a lot of cereal and I loved things like macaroni and cheese. The "Americanization" of the "fusion" side of our menu came from simply experimenting with fish, fruits, and spices. As the menu evolved over the years, we added all of the Genki Speciality appetizers, bowls, and rolls. These are not meant to be traditional; they are only meant to taste good. I will always embrace fusing the culture, traditions, and flavors I grew up with with the freedom to create and experiment that we have here in the States.
Why Virginia Highland? How does this location differ from your restaurants in Buckhead and the Prado?
Virginia Highland is the best true neighborhood in Atlanta. It is a neighborhood that we wanted to be a part of. We try to be sensitive to the area when planning our restaurants. For example, in the case of Virginia Highland, we combined 100-year-old reclaimed woods and original artwork influenced by my upbringing in Tokyo with the high ceilings and brick walls that came with the space in order to create a warm, welcoming feeling for residents and visitors. Every time we build a restaurant, we learn and hopefully get better and more efficient. I think we did that with this location.
The key to [a restaurant] being a part of any great neighborhood is to have management and staff that are a part of the community. At Genki, we are involved in and supportive of all neighborhood associations and functions, and we plan to continue to engrain ourselves in the community and support our neighbors. We love being a part of Virginia Highland.
Does it feel like it's been a year?
The unfortunate thing about getting older is that each year becomes a smaller percentage of my life and feels like it flies by. On one hand, it feels like only yesterday that we opened and on the other hand the store feels like it has been there for years. The major lesson for me is to enjoy every day because time flies.
What's the must-order dish?
I would like to have customers experience all of the dishes we offer. Everyone should try the Hamachi Kama appetizer; the Yakisoba, Katsu, Unatama, and Chirashi Don; the Tuna Symphony; and the Genki Tuna, Virginia Highland, and Reid Rolls for a little variety. Also, while I think we do an excellent job of pairing wines, I love when people pair their meals with cold sake. Add a bottle of Black and Gold to your meal— I promise you will not be disappointed.
Any new concepts in the works?
We are developing the “Genki-to-Go” concept, which will be an abbreviated menu for alternative venues such as sporting venues and perhaps a food truck. This will also allow us to visit neighborhoods where we could open locations in the future.
· All Previous Coverage of Genki [-EATL-]
Genki Owner Reid Zeising at the Virginia Highland location. [Photo by Philip Shone]