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‘Sushi Nazi’ Says ‘Sayonara’ to Studio City

Chef and longtime owner of Sushi Nozawa gives a rare interview to Studio City Patch.

He doesn’t like to talk much. He certainly doesn’t like to talk much to the press. And, he shrugs about the moniker that some of the press has given him—“The Sushi Nazi.”

He’s not German, he’s Japanese, he points out with a smirk.

“Sometimes, people come in and they have bad manners,” he says. “I tell them to go out.”

Kazunomi Nozawa is closing his shop in Studio City on Feb. 29 after more than a quarter of a century.

That may not sound like a big deal along that strip of Ventura Boulevard where there are dozens of sushi bars, but this tiny shop of a few hundred square feet has often been called by critics as the place to get some of the best sushi in the world.

Nozawa has earned top Zagat survey ratings for the past two decades. The New York Times calls the fish “the freshest from the world’s waters,” but it’s Chef Nozawa’s gruff demeanor that makes him legendary. The Los Angeles Times describes  him as “imperious,” the LA Weekly calls him “a sushi tyrant.”

Of course, it’s the overbearing “Soup Nazi” from the Seinfeld TV series (which was taped for most of the 1990s down the street at the lot), that earned Nozawa his nickname, for kicking out disrespectful customers and telling people what they should order, much like the Russian soup chef.

“Americans have to understand my style and my country’s people,” he says, not looking up as he sliced up the fresh fish of the day. “I’m Japanese.”

Then he looks up with the sharp knife wagging like a finger. “And sometimes people have very bad manners, OK?”

So why is he closing shop? He answered that after Studio City Patch  tapped at the window a few hours before the lunch crowd just after it was announced he was closing. He hesitatingly unlocks the door and agrees to an interview. He is good about recognizing people who have come to his place for a long time.

“has come to visit me for 26 years,” Nozawa smirks. “Before he was famous, he comes here. Tom Hanks, too. Mel Gibson.”

It’s a rare night that someone notable from TV or film isn’t at Nozawa. (Personally, we’ve seen Drew Barrymore, Jodie Foster, Rebecca Romijn, , , and many others seated nearby in the close tables.)

A sign above his head behind the sushi bar says “Trust Me,” and when you arrive, he sizes up your table and your appetite, figures out what is best suited for you, and then sends a bill—it could be near three figures per person.

You could order off the menu, but it’s frowned upon—and it defeats the purpose of the experience.

“The customers understand,” the chef says. “They figure out how it works.”

The “Trust Me” model started early in his career. A customer once told him he didn’t like toro. It was stringy at another restaurant.

“In Japan, ‘toro’ means like butter, it melts in your mouth,” and so, that’s what Nozawa shows his customers. He only serves yellow fin and big eye tuna. The loyal customer trusted him from then on, and now many more do, too.

He looks around at his modest tables. He knows people stand outside and wait for a tables. He takes no reservations.

“No decorations, nothing fancy, no talk,” he points out. “Every day I have 100 people come through here.”

So why call it quits now?

“It’s hard work. For 26 years every morning I go to the fish market, I pick the fish,” he sighs heavily and looks up. “I am 66 years old now.”

(See the series of videos in the gallery above of how he picks his fish and an average day of work.)

It’s been a long time since he recalls throwing someone out—another sign of his aging, he smiles. Take out your cell phone, that can get you kicked out. Signs warn that the whole place is a “cell-free zone.”

Ask for a California roll? That could get you kicked out. There’s no such cute-named Caterpillar roll or anything like that here. The sushi is done in traditional Japanese style.

“I love Studio City,” Nozawa proclaims. “I have the number one customers in Studio City, I am very happy. They were very high class.”

Over the years he had many chances to expand in the modest mini-mall to a bigger space—in fact a much larger Japanese restaurant is two doors down, but he turned down the offers.

“There is one chef, that is me, that is OK,” he says. “Too many is no good.”

He has 47 years of experience as a sushi chef, and always loved food. He came from Japan to California in 1977, and worked for a friend who opened a sushi bar in Encino in 1980. Six years later, he opened his own place in Studio City.

In Tokyo he took up an apprenticeship at one of the city’s premiere sushi shops, working 15-hour days six days a week. He hasn’t stopped that rigorous pace. He became fascinated in all sorts of fish—octopus, glass fish, and studied in Anchorage, Portland, New York, Detroit and more.

Now, he and his son, Tom, and a group of businessmen own three other stores in Brentwood, downtown and Santa Monica called Sugarfish. He will probably offer lessons to young promising sushi chefs at those locations.

He was never concerned or threatened by the incredible number of sushi places proliferating along Ventura Boulevard—the most prolific kind of food in all of Studio City.

“There are many sushi places, but they are not mine,” he smiles.

And why not pass on this place to another chef? Why not keep the sushi going?

He points to the sign above the window of his restaurant and merely nods.

It is the only store that bears his name—Sushi Nozawa.

“No one else will be chef here.”

Karen Young February 06, 2012 at 08:31 PM
Great story, Mike! I heard that his Sugar Fish might be replacing it?
Schizo February 07, 2012 at 12:58 AM
I applaud him kicking out rude and inappropriate customers. However, shame on him for only serving endangered, red-listed species of tuna. :-/
Christine February 07, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Having the address of the sushi restaurant would have been great to know. Guess I can always Google it to find out. Good story though, thanks.
Mike Szymanski February 07, 2012 at 04:00 AM
Clicking on the link of the highlighted store name will bring you to the page of the business... and pertinent info 11288 Ventura Blvd.... and there's a map, too...
Jeff February 07, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Thank you for the article on this wonderful establishment . It is very sad to learn that another landmark business in Studio City will be vacant. A big no thank you for perpetuating the use of a moniker that you claim has been attributed to this man in the press. If others have called him that, then let them be insensitive and name those publications as to whom attributed that moniker. The bottom line is that he values respect and proper etiquette. There are better words to describe his behavior. It's his business and he (not the customer) has the right to decide how he wants patrons to act and order in his establishment. If you don't like it, then leave. That kind of behavior is refreshing in a day when cell phones and other electronic devices often invade our meals when we go out to eat. My family on my father's side were all killed in World War II by the actions of the Nazi Party and we as a country fought to rid the world of such individuals. By using that word in print when describing someone it is no different than using a slang word to describe someone's race, creed or color. For some who read this you might think I am over reacting but when we become comfortable we become lazy and when we become lazy we forget. Too many have paid the ultimate price under that moniker for us to use it in such a casual manner.
maria muse February 07, 2012 at 07:19 PM
My father is a holocaust survivor. He is 84 years old- hangin in my kitchen right now... I am not offended by the term Sushi Nazi, because I know that people use it almost with affection, but I can see how he wouldn't want to be called it as a Japanese (ally to the Germans). We don't want to trivialize that war, or ever forget, no. But I bet people meant no harm. Humor is powerful. Sayonara Sushi Nozawa!
Mike Szymanski February 07, 2012 at 07:47 PM
And you're right, his response is that he's Japanese... it's a moniker he can't shake, so he just deals with it in his own smirking way. If he had told me he doesn't like to be called that (like Elizabeth Taylor saying "don't call me Liz!") then I would never have used it in the headline.... sounds like you need to write a story about your dad, Maria! Could be as fascinating as our old friend Irving... http://patch.com/A-qtxL
Jeff February 07, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Maria, there was no humor intended merely a label or identifying moniker. People do not mean any harm but that does not justify putting it in print and using it to label someone. The standards are supposed to be higher in journalism and especially when printed for all to view. The LA Times and LA Weekly labeled Kazunomi Nozawa in a more professionally acceptable derogatory way than Mr. Szymanski . "the Los Angeles Times describes him as “imperious,” the LA Weekly calls him “a sushi tyrant.” He doesn’t like to talk much. He certainly doesn’t like to talk much to the press. And, he shrugs about the moniker that some of the press has given him—“The Sushi Nazi.”. Is it a wonder he does not want to talk to the press. Who labeled Mr. Nozawa that name other than Mr. Syzmanski Just because the name appeared on television on a popular show over a decade and was attributed to a character selling soup doesn't condone the action and make it acceptable use. That show was a comedy and done with humor. Mr. Syzmanski is reporting the news about a city and the people in it. There is a difference between humor and reporting factual information.
L.O. February 07, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Jeff...blah,blah,blah - It's a FACT that his nickname is Sushi Nazi - whether YOU or HE likes it or not! This is a local paper and does not require the formality of the LA Times - perhaps you'd be happier in Brentwood. I suppose you can't even find the humor in Seinfeld?
Miki Henderson February 07, 2012 at 09:09 PM
What a silly silly rant you guys... this chef is KNOWN as that by EVERYONE!~ I knew immediately who he was talking about when mike put that headline up (or his copy desk, or whoever writes the headlines)... There's nothing offensive about this, there's nothing derogatory or to any group. It would be different if he kicked out only Jewish people, but that's not the case. Don't be silly! You are just coloring a really great profile that no one else could get (are you a rival, is that it?) Chef Nozawa may be like my friend Tina Louise, who hates that she will be always referred to as "Ginger from Gilligan's Island" whether she likes it or not... the Chef at least doesnt' try to fight it. He's doesn't embrace it either...he doesn't care, why should you? Don't let comments like this deter Patch from keeping up this kind of great stories that no one else does, beautiful writing, too!
Dave Gray February 07, 2012 at 09:33 PM
This guy talks to no one, so congratulations to The Patch for getting him to give an interview. Would love to see some video of him. Everytime I've gone there, he doesn't do much more than grunt a few lines.
Scott Killeen February 07, 2012 at 10:16 PM
This town is freak'n nuts with nuts! Start your bitch'n and moaning with the Queen of Nazi usage JOAN RIVERS! Thank God for Larry David...
Jeff February 07, 2012 at 11:21 PM
My comments in no way were meant or intended to stifle good stories . My comments are meant to state the obvious which is that when a story is being written you need to be sensitive to everyone . Yes, on the internet and in person he may be affectionately called that. That doesn't mean it's okay to print it. You will not find it printed in a real newspaper then why is it okay. Just because this is on the internet and he doesn't care. If he doesn't care then it's unnecessary to use it. There are other words that get the point across and keep you focused on the story. You are correct L.O. , this is a local internet paper but whether it's local or not, if it was printed in a real newspaper you received , the heading, "Sushi Nazi says Sayonara to Studio City" would cause the newspaper to receive angry letters from outraged Japanese Americans , and find themselves defending a lawsuit regarding stereotype enforcement. As far as being happier in Brentwood, I am sure I would be pleased with their schools and property value increases. Then again, I live here and unlike yourself , Scott and Miki I don't make my comments personal.
Scott Killeen February 07, 2012 at 11:59 PM
BS, sell it to someone else Jeff! Get a life, the Sushi Nazi was in reference to Larry David's/ Jerry Seinfelds soup restaurant owner character on the Seinfeld, the Soup Nazi! Hello McFly....anyone home in there! Holly molly Jeff loosen your tightie whities! The Soup Nazi character was just used by Jerry Seinfeld in a Super Bowl commercial for Acuras NSX sports car. http://youtu.be/1LofPu0ycbo. Here is the Soup Nazi episode, Jeff.......http://youtu.be/M2lfZg-apSA
Scott Killeen February 08, 2012 at 01:46 AM
http://www.consumingla.com/2012/01/26/sayonara-sushi-nazi/ http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122480233710964683.html And he is not the only food Nazi... http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=299434685650 http://www.nashvilleconfidential.com/confidential/2003/02/just_say_yes.html
Jeff February 08, 2012 at 01:51 AM
Scott, I will not take your comments personally . The article was about Sushi Nozawa not Seinfeld. We get it, you love that show. We get it . You like Larry David. We get it. You don't like Joan Rivers, we get it.Sushi Nozawa is not an episode of Seinfeld, it's a real place with real not fictitious characters. Get it. You are a fan of Back to the Future. We get it. Calling someone a Sushi Nazi is still derogatory whether or not it was the intention or whether that's a nickname. Saying Sayonara when discussing the demise of a Japanese business is still politically incorrect As would Adios Amigo! or Hasta La Vista, Baby! would be inappropriate to the demise of La Salsa in Studio City..You may not feel that way and that's fine. We agree to disagree.
Jeff February 08, 2012 at 02:04 AM
Hey Scott, very easy to research the term Sush Nazi and I know he is not the only one. But guess what, that name distinction is not in legit print magazines or newspapers. It's on websites which do not have the same threshold or legitimacy. Anyone can write a review or article as long as they decide to either create a website or review a business. That does not make a person a journalist anymore than someone who has a graphics program makes them a graphic designer.
Denis Higgins February 08, 2012 at 02:24 AM
No sushi for YOU!! ;)
Jeff February 08, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Unfortunately, after Feb 29th, No Sushi for any of us.
Linda Rubin February 10, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Great story, Mike. Good on you for getting the interview.
Scott Killeen February 10, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Jeff, Your panties are way to tight. Have you every thought maybe "print" is the not so social media? Let's see, the Soup Nazi character was on the most watched TV show at it time, and is in reruns still today WORLDWIDE! A Super Bowl commercial mentioned and showed the "Soup Nazi" character, his name "Soup Nazi" was even spoken to millions and millions of people, it's a known, should I say "icon" of that era of TV. But you are concerned with a media that is smaller and smaller every day. It's okay to say it on TV and on the Internet but GOD DAMN don't print it! Did I just offend people with that GD...sorry. Please go to JC Penny's and buy a pair of tightie whitie underwear two sizes larger, for all of us.
Jeff February 10, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Scott, obviously you have missed the points of my commemts. This article nor I care about Seinfeld and the character of the Soup Nazi. Anything having to do with television , film, Larry David and popular culture is incidental to this article. This article is about the demise of Sushi Nozawa and the politically incorrect yet attributed moniker of "Sushi Nazi" to it's owner. What I said was that it was unnecessary to use that moniker in the article to describe the chef/ owner even though that is a name he has been called by some websites.
Mike Szymanski February 10, 2012 at 06:55 AM
Did you see the follow-up, not using anything someone could say is derogatory... http://patch.com/A-qJSh AND see the Holocaust survivor story: http://patch.com/A-qJvR
Jeff February 10, 2012 at 07:33 AM
Not only saw both but appreciated it like your other reporting on other subject matter that appears in the Patch. I probably over reacted but I expect more from journalists / publishers . I expect them to be more sensitive than the rags at the checkout and the blog websites on the net. I find the Patch to be the only news related site to cover Studio City and am glad that it exists. .

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