Kaizen Announces Move to Old City

Kaizen, 416 Clinch Ave., Knoxville, June 2016
Jesse Newmister (chef) with (then) Fiance Margaret Stolfi, Kaizen, 416 Clinch Ave., Knoxville, May 2016

Kaizen, a very popular downtown restaurant that opened nearly four years ago at 416 Clinch Avenue, will soon move. The new location at 127 S. Central Street is the previous location of the Underground portion of the Crown and Goose and will offer several improvements to the restaurant, most importantly a full-sized kitchen. It will also have a few more seats and a much larger, very cool patio.

I spoke to chef and owner Jesse Newmister and his wife and business partner Margaret Stolfi about the move. Jesse said that since opening Kaizen he’s known that he’d likely need a new location eventually. When he saw the opening on Central, he saw an opportunity to get in and lock in a long-term lease at current levels.

Important to the couple is maintaining the feel and spirit of Kaizen. The addition of one of the best patios or courtyards in the city, which has a rustic charm, is something that attracted them to the site. Having friend Matthew Cummings and Pretentious Glass on the other side of that courtyard made it even more attractive. Jesse and Matt are also good friends with Jeffrey DeAlejandro who will operate Hen Hoc, his upcoming business venture with partner Jon Newman in another portion of the previous Crown and Goose.

Future Home of Kaizen, 127 South Central Street, Knoxville, March 2020

The new location will also offer a more functional bar space in addition to the added seating. The kitchen and cooler that were previously used by Crown and Goose will now be used for Kaizen. The new kitchen will replace a woefully small kitchen at the current location that seriously restricts the food that can be prepared and will be about three times larger, include a full grill, and allow for an expanded menu.

Jesse hopes to expand the noodle offerings and add skewers and perhaps larger cuts of grilled meat. He also plans more fish and he’s happy to have more space to saute. He will be able to expand his cooking techniques and styles and he plans to eventually offer “simple, hand rolled sushi.” However, the initial focus will be on transferring what is in the current location to the new location and making it work.

“We wanted to stay downtown and we have to keep our identity and faithful customers.” He’s happy with the dedicated following the restaurant has established and he wants to make those guests feel comfortable in the new space. Jesse noted that the YWCA, which owns the building in which Kaizen currently resides, has been a very good landlord. He says they have a great impact on the community and he’s been happy to have his rent go to them each month.

Future Home of Kaizen, 127 South Central Street, Knoxville, March 2020

The original plan called for opening in the new location in May, but the timeline may get impacted by the pandemic. He says construction is ongoing and noted that the arches in the old underground, as well as the round portal windows to the outside, will remain. He’s not certain if the construction will be impacted by the virus.

Staffing is a significant issue. He increased staff greatly at the beginning of March in anticipation of needing more employees for the new location and wanting to have them trained before opening. He was also staffing up for Big Ears. With Big Ears cancelled and his decision to close his two restaurants (which occurred before the order), he’s trying to keep some money flowing to his staff, though it isn’t easy. Some are working to cook the carry out orders and tips are split among all employees, even if they aren’t working.

Their hours, for now, are 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. for curbside pickup. Call in your order at 409-4444 or order on their website. Another way you can help is by purchasing a t-shirt. T-shirts are 25% off, and all proceeds go to laid-off employees.