While we talked, Toshi wrapped endless pork dumplings, sitting on what used to be a chair to many customers when dining at Now & Zen.
Originally from the city of Kesennuma in northern Japan, Toshi Sato learned to cook traditional Japanese cuisine after graduating high-school.
Then, in 1987, he was recruited by Ken Mori (who also owned Tennessee Waltz near JPJ and Escafé/Eastern Standard where Bebedero is now) to come to Charlottesville to help open Tokyo Rose with sushi chef Atsushi Miura. It was one of Cville’s first true sushi bars, quite possibly the very first. It was definitely a hip place for the time, which included the iconic nightclub downstairs where many local, regional, and National acts performed.
Toshi spent a good 6 years at Tokyo Rose before switching gears entirely, to work for the newly renovated Keswick Hall doing everything from marketing to wedding planning, where he stayed for 18yrs. Things started getting busy in 1999 and he started his own business catering for wedding events there.
After his long stint at Keswick, Lu-Mei Chang (owner of the building on West Market that houses Monsoon Siam) told him about her renovation of the building and invited him to open his own place in one of the spaces. The 2 knew each other from working together at Eastern Standard and Tokyo Rose. First serving lunch, people kept asking him to offer dinner as well. Now 11+ years old, Now & Zen has been a staple hole-in-the-wall and while take-out has been doing amazingly well, “it’s so boring” says Toshi… he misses the interaction with his customers and plans to reopen in-person dining sometime mid-late June.
Toshi’s top 5 Asian ingredients he must have in his kitchen:
– Soy sauce
– Rice vinegar