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

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 Jaimie Lewis.

jaimie and jeffrey in their light filled restaurant on lena street. &#822 14
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 Jaimie.