One of Market Square’s oldest restaurants is about to become its newest. Shonos in City, closed a couple of months ago to undergo a transformation, is opening today on Market Square with a whole new look. Gone is the tired look it had settled in to. With its renovations and upgrades it now presents a sophisticated, modern atmosphere, with nods to the traditional.
From the tiled wall beside the front door and the comfortable seating beside large front windows, all the way to the back with its wall of bamboo playing off the old brick of the building, it has retained its comfortable warmth which moving to what owner Willy Rosenberg termed a “more classy” appearance.
The restaurant is nearly ten years old which, as I pointed out earlier this week in my post about Bliss, is an eternity on Market Square, though I’m hoping longevity will become more of a norm with the resurgence of downtown. Willy says there is very little secret about being successful in the restaurant business. “Sell good food at a good price,” and you are off to a good start, he told me.
He also let me know that the business is a family run enterprise starting with his father who, at ninety-two years of age works a couple of mornings a week preparing food. Willy and his son also cook and it was their labor that got “ninety percent” of the work done in renovating the restaurant. He said he finally got tired of contractors not getting the business done and decided he and his son could do it themselves.
They did a beautiful job, though he was quick to credit his wife with the choices in decor. It really is a beautiful space with its lofty ceilings and blend of brick, wood and bamboo throughout. I’d have a hard time choosing between the seating at the front with a view of the square, the outdoor seating or the coziness of the back room.
The food remains largely unchanged from before the construction. Willy said the core of the menu has remained the same while changes have been made around the edges. I’ve left the menu photographs a bit larger so you can click the photograph and see it large enough to read. The prices remained low which is something about which he seems to be proud as he wants to give diners a choice when they consider more expensive restaurants. There is not only a sushi menu, but also a hibachi menu, so if you like it cooked or not-so-much, you are going to be happy either way. I also caught sight of a chocolate concoction that is served engulfed in flames.
Happily, it turns out I knew a couple of the members of the staff. First, Jayne McGowan who co-ordinates (along with SJ) the Artist Alley work is a hostess. Without Jayne’s text last night, you would not be reading this post. She tipped me off that the re-0pening would be today and she convinced Willy to let me crash their training night to take pictures and otherwise make myself a minor annoyance. It will be good to see her friendly face at the door. Also, Chef Karen Crumley, a graduate of UT’s Culinary program and former Sushi Chef at Nama will be one of the chefs. She is also employed by Avanti Savoia which is where you may know her from if you observed any of their cooking demonstrations in the Culinary Tent at the Market Square Art Market a couple of weeks ago.
As for beverages, they have a selection of wines as well as PBR, Yuengling and Fat Tire beer on tap. They also have saki, which is rice wine, after all. Willy says they now have one of the very best, if not the best, saki bars in east Tennessee. He has added high-end saki due to requests he has received. The top end is $50 a bottle and only sold as a bottle.
Some of the charm of the old place has been retained in the form of the “Good Luck Monkey” which you can see in a couple of these photographs. It comes with a story, having been brought to the restaurant numerous times by a group of men who came to watch the UT games on the big screen television out front. When the group disbanded they gave the monkey to Willie for good luck. It seems to be working.
So, there you have it, a home-grown business doing things the right way and taking a pause to make things even better. If you like that kind of thing, you need to support the people who try to make it happen. So, why not go there this weekend or as soon as you are able? Tell Willy I sent you, so he won’t feel he wasted his time with that annoying guy. And look for me. I plan to eat there this weekend, myself.