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Ozu Restaurant and Market: In Santa Fe, ‘A Trail of Breadcrumbs’ that Lead Back to Japan


Ozu Restaurant and Market: In Santa Fe, ‘A Trail of Breadcrumbs’ that Lead Back to Japan

November 9, 2023

I’ve been following Jeffrey Ozawa’s adventures in the food industry ever since my friend (and his older sister) Melissa showed me photos of the sumptuous traditional Japanese dishes he would prepare for their family gatherings at their childhood New Jersey home. When he and his girlfriend, Jaimie Lewis, moved to LA and started a catering company that specialized in artfully presented bento meals, I followed along on Instagram. When they opened Tenzo, an expertly curated Japanese kitchen and housewares web store, I clicked the follow button again. And earlier this year, when the pair moved to Santa Fe and opened Ozu, a pocket-sized restaurant and market on Lena Street that serves Japanese home cooking, I took note and added it to my must-visit list.

Moving to the desert Southwest to open a traditional Japanese eatery may seem a fool’s errand, but Jeffrey understands that food has the power to transport. His mother’s family has deep roots in the Philadelphia area; his father is from Osaka. “He created his own little Japan inside our colonial American house. The kitchen was his refuge. At dinner I watched my dad recreate Japan with a Tupperware of katsuobushi and a bottle of shoyu,” he recalls. “Food, like books or movies, can take you anywhere.”

Now, at Ozu, it’s Jeffrey and Jaimie who are conjuring old Japan with choice ingredients, attention to tradition, and a flick of the knife. The space, at just 400 square feet (including the kitchen), was inspired by the tiny family-run 10-seaters common in Japan. Jaimie designed the minimalist-industrial space and constructed many of the elements herself. “I built the counter, market shelf, and table tops from sugar pine, which I milled, joined, and finished myself at a community woodshop called MAKE Santa Fe. I learned everything in the process of doing it,” says Jaimie.

The couple plan to open a brick and mortar Tenzo across the street from Ozu next year. “The purpose of Ozu and Tenzo now is to create a bridge between my community in the United States and my community in Japan,” says Jeffrey. “Japanese food in the United States means so many different things, but I think one aspect that is underrepresented is home cooking, the old Showa era recipes. The old timers who carried that tradition are retiring, and I feel the need to keep it going.”

Photography by Ashley Perry Lynn, unless otherwise noted. .

jaimie and jeffrey in their light filled restaurant on lena street. &#8\2\2 17
Above: Jaimie and Jeffrey in their light-filled restaurant on Lena Street. “Our neighbors are all legends. Next door is Bill Fishbein, who runs a nonprofit helping central American chocolate and coffee farmers, and was an early fair-trade importer. Upstairs is Aaron Payne, a gallerist of contemporary art, and David Benjamin Sherry, a painter and photographer. It is my great honor that they are all Ozu regulars,” says Jeffrey.
the japanese character on the sign means small. &#8\2\20;it is the o in ozu 18
Above: The Japanese character on the sign means small. “It is the o in Ozu and the o in Ozawa. The kanji for Ozu translates to ‘small harbor’ and the kanji for Ozawa means ‘small pond.’ I chose Ozu because it is similar to my name…and also a reference to Yasujiro Ozu, a Japanese film director I’ve always admired. His films are about everyday life, and food, of course, plays a big part. Within his films there is a nostalgic feeling that I’ve tried to capture at the restaurant,” says Jeffrey.
&#8\2\20;the blue and white checkered noren is from a historic villa in kyo 19
Above: “The blue and white checkered noren is from a historic villa in Kyoto. The motif has become popular recently,” says Jaimie. (Here’s lookalike on Etsy.)
hard to find japanese pantry items greet visitors. the couple make yearly sourc 20
Above: Hard-to-find Japanese pantry items greet visitors. The couple make yearly sourcing and research trips to Japan. “I studied medieval European history and spent three years in a PhD program studying late medieval religious culture. Research has always been my passion and is the root of why I started Tenzo. I love hunting for new things, trying to find the best example of something,” says Jaimie.
the   by the door is a reproduction of a gyotaku print made by artist dwight hw 21
Above: The picture by the door is a reproduction of a gyotaku print made by artist Dwight Hwang. “This print was a Christmas present for Jeff last year after we signed the lease on the space, and features California sheephead, which is his favorite fish,” says Jaimie. The J41chairs by Borge Mogensen are from DWR. “I love a modern take on the Windsor chair, and you see them a lot in restaurants in Japan.”
an ozu summer special: somen, japanese cold noodles. photograph by jaimie lewis. 22
Above: An Ozu summer special: somen, Japanese cold noodles. Photograph by Jaimie Lewis.
the counter was treated with five coats of afm safecoat polyureseal bp, &#8 23
Above: The counter was treated with five coats of AFM Safecoat Polyureseal BP, “a low-VOC finish that beautifully preserves the grain and tone of the wood without yellowing, and provides a strong barrier to the abuse that restaurant counters inevitably take,” says Jaimie. The Salt Stools are from DWR. “I love the juxtaposition of light wood with black, and of the clean and modern form of the counter with an antique-inspired chair.”
Above: Ozu’s menu is inspired by some of Jeffrey’s favorite childhood dishes. “I wanted to capture the taste of the home cooking that I grew up with. Onigiri, ochazuke, and bento are all things I would eat when I was a kid. Some of the dishes are fairly traditional, and others are my interpretation of Japanese cooking with American ingredients.” (At left) Miso rice porridge with mushrooms. Photograph by Jaimie Lewis. (At right) Salmon bento box.

jeffrey, forming rice balls for onigiri. &#8\2\20;i inherited from  a very  26
Above: Jeffrey, forming rice balls for onigiri. “I inherited from [my dad] a very good memory, so I remember all of his stories about Japan, even his asides and stray comments. The dinners he had, the trips he took,” he says. “Being raised by my dad created a trail of breadcrumbs that led me back to Japan.”
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Frequently asked questions

Who are the owners of Ozu Cafe in Santa Fe?

The owners of Ozu Cafe in Santa Fe are Jeffrey Ozawa and Jaimie Lewis.

What type of cuisine does Ozu Cafe serve?

Ozu Cafe serves Japanese-inspired cuisine.

Where is Ozu Cafe located?

Ozu Cafe is located in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

What is unique about Ozu Cafe's interior design?

Ozu Cafe's interior design is inspired by traditional Japanese aesthetics, creating a tranquil and minimalist ambiance.

Does Ozu Cafe offer vegetarian or vegan options?

Yes, Ozu Cafe offers vegetarian and vegan options on their menu.

Are reservations required at Ozu Cafe?

Reservations are not required, but they are recommended, especially during peak hours.

Does Ozu Cafe offer takeout or delivery services?

Yes, Ozu Cafe offers takeout and delivery services.

Can Ozu Cafe accommodate dietary restrictions or allergies?

Yes, Ozu Cafe can accommodate dietary restrictions and allergies. They have options for gluten-free, nut-free, and dairy-free diets.

Does Ozu Cafe have outdoor seating?

Yes, Ozu Cafe has outdoor seating available.

What are Ozu Cafe's operating hours?

Ozu Cafe is open from 11:00 AM to 9:00 PM, Monday to Saturday.

Product summary  

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Salt Stool

$345.00 USD from Design Within Reach
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Outdoor & Patio Furniture

Side Chair J41

$236.00 USD from Design Within Reach
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AFM Safe Coat

$48.00 USD from Green Building Supply

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