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On Tsunami Turning 16

IMG_1431My restaurant is a teenager. If my restaurant were a person, it would be getting it’s driver’s license this year. If it were human, it would be asserting it’s independence and rebelling against it’s parents right now. It would be resentful of authority and insist on doing things it’s own way. It would be experimenting and dappling in all sorts of new and interesting (and sometimes risky) things. It would answer to no one. But it would, even in it’s state of adolescent angst, realize that the greatest potential still lies ahead.

But then, with the exception of the drivers license, all of these things are true of Tsunami. In our 17th year of business now, the restaurant has begun to rebel a bit. It doesn’t always do what we want it to do. The menu has seen numerous changes over the years, much of it well received, but some of it perhaps ill-conceived. Risky? Restaurants are always risky. Just like teenagers. Because I have been blessed with amazing and open-minded business partners, I have never really had to answer to anyone. And even as we celebrate another double-digit anniversary of doing business in Cooper Young, I still feel like the world is our oyster.

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” Other definitions include words like “profit” or “prosperity”. I prefer the former definition, because it more closely resembles my ideal. When I opened Tsunami in July of 1998, my number one motivation was not money or recognition. No, my number one focus was self-employment and self-expression. I felt that I could not achieve my full creative potential as long as I was working for someone else. It was a big leap. Going from a situation in which I had to submit menu proposals to the owners for their approval (or, quite often, their rejection) to having complete creative autonomy took some getting used to. The Buck Stops with Me now. But the buck doesn’t linger. There are bills to pay and payrolls to make and repairmen to support. Like I always tell people when they ask how business is: I’m making a living, not a killing.

Early on, I did have a few “creative differences” with my original business partner, the late Thomas Boggs. Starting early on with the Why-the-Hell-Would-You-Want-to-Name-it-Tsunami conversation before we even opened. That issue, by the way, was eventually solved once and for all one afternoon in the space that was soon to be Tsunami. Thomas and I were standing in the dining room holding the ladder for the HVAC guy who had half his body in the ceiling inspecting the air vents. Thomas brought up the name thing again. “I mean, who the hell knows what a tsunami is, anyway!?” he asked me. That’s when the guy on the ladder, the HVAC guy, withdraws the upper half of his body from the ceiling, looks down at us and says “You mean the big wave?”
I looked at Thomas and just smiled. He said something which may have involved profanity. But he never brought the subject up again with me.

A friend told me over lunch recently that I missed a great opportunity by not making a big PR push last year on our 15th anniversary. “Fifteen just sounds better than 16” he said. Or something to that affect (but much more eloquent.)
Of course he is right. But my response was “If you’re doing something for the attention, you’re doing it wrong.” Don’t get me wrong, my business absolutely depends on recognition and attention. But my main motivation continues to be what I have been doing for the past 16 years, and that is staying focused on the food and ingredients that I love to eat and work with. I hope that it manages to captivate people’s attention for many more years.

Happy Birthday, Tsunami. I’m proud of you.

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