APRIL 2021 • LONGISLANDPRESS.COM 61
KISSAKI›S CHEF MARK GARCIA
MAKING WAVES WITH SUSHI
BY ALAN KRAWITZ
Mark Garcia was considered an outsider
when he moved from his native
Chicago to New York in 2016 to open his
But now, Garcia is the driving force
helping to steer the cuisine and growth
of upscale omakase sushi restaurant
Kissaki, which opened in the Hamptons
in June and is set to open its sixth location
in Manhasset this summer.
Omakase sushi is a concept that requires
diners to entrust the ingredients
and presentation of their meal fully to
the sushi chef; it has been compared to
an artist creating a masterpiece.
Garcia’s start in the restaurant world
was humble enough.
“I was in high school in Chicago and I enrolled
in a culinary arts program in my
sophomore year,” he recalls, adding that
he got his first job through the program.
A veritable tour of Chicago’s restaurant
and hotel kitchen scene followed, with
stints at Sushi Samba Rio, Kaze Sushi,
the Waldorf Astoria, and Momotaro.
Garcia first learned Italian cuisine early
in his career and then began his ascent
into the world of sushi under the 10-year
tutelage of esteemed master sushi chef
Kaze Chan of Sushi San in Chicago, who
is credited with opening an array of
influential sushi venues in Chicago for
the past 25 years.
“I learned sushi from one of the masters,”
says Garcia, 37.
Following a successful run at Momotaro,
Garcia moved to New York and in
2016, he and partner Jay Zheng opened
Gaijin in Astoria. The name “Gaijin”
literally means outsider in Japanese.
The venue›s name was fitting for Garcia
not only due to his Mexican roots but
also because of doubts about his success
compared to other master sushi chefs.
But those doubts quickly fell by the
wayside as Garcia developed a strong
following for his innovations.
In 2019, Garcia met Garry Kanfer, his
current partner and Kissaki owner.
“I was very enthusiastic to meet Garry
because he wanted to build a brand and
Mark Garcia’s Kissaki restaurants specialize in high-end omakase sushi.
not just open a business,” Garcia recalls.
Initially, Kanfer sought to make Kissaki
a high-end establishment in the price
range of $400, but Garcia said it was
“too high for the average diner.”
“I wanted a more accessible price
range,” Garcia said, noting that at the
time in New York, there were two very
“There was a $50 quick and easy sushi
and then there were the $400-plus
levels,” Garcia says, explaining that
the latter felt a bit “stuffy, almost like a
church.” The two settled on something
“in the middle” for Kissaki, with prices
more in the $150 range.
But with the first Kissaki location
opening in January 2020, Garcia said
the pandemic turned things on their
He recalled that at first, his spirits were
somewhat crushed between lockdowns
and limited crowd capacities, especially
since things had been going so well
when they first opened.
Like many other restaurants, Kissaki,
which now has three locations in New
York City, one in Connecticut, and one
in Water Mill, has had to pivot during
the pandemic, which meant offering
takeout omakase boxes in small, medium
Popular takeout boxes include nigiri,
featuring tuna, salmon, mackerel, and
even red snapper.
Garcia says that Kissaki is also using
innovative robots at all locations to help
expedite the labor-intensive process of
making sushi and especially takeout
boxes. “The robots have been a great
tool for us to use to get ahead,” he adds.
The tools are commonly used in Japan
but rarely by city restaurants.
Specialties Garcia prepares include
seasonal fish such as tuna and salmon
with banana peppers and chives.
“Our fish is sourced directly from Japanese
suppliers,” Garcia says, adding that
Kissaki has relationships with farmers
The menu also features creative cocktails
such as a kissaki kick or green
lantern as well as signature desserts
like dulce de leche or matcha red bean
Asked about business now, Garcia says
it continues to be very “up and down.”
He adds, “we’ve struggled as all restaurants
And, even though Garcia says things
are improving daily at Kissaki, he still
believes it is a difficult business.
“Restaurants are tough to work in...I’m
surprised people even still want to open
them,” he says. “The numbers are tough
and profit margins are thin. Now with
the pandemic, things are even worse.”
Kissaki Manhasset will open this
summer at 411 Plandome Rd. Visit
“I learned sushi from one of the masters”