Winner: Best Sushi
What makes Nama so popular?
Years of hard work, a dedicated staff, our commitment to the freshest fish possible. We are not as restrained by some of the conventions because we have a diverse background. It helps us appeal to a wider audience. We have a great respect for all the cultural traditions. We have had community support from the day we started as a little neighborhood watering hole. We try to engage the community on as many levels as we can.
Does that include social media?
We are on Facebook and Twitter. It's gotten to the point where it's hard to balance running the business and keeping the content flowing and fresh. I think Pinterest will be the next step for social media for small businesses. Our number-one goal with social media is to interact with the community—sometimes informing the customer base, sometimes seeking feedback. It's a great way to get a message out. We have 2,000 followers on Twitter and 4-5,000 likes on Facebook.
How's the new location working out?
In a single word: great. Our biggest fear was losing quality control. It's been the exact opposite. We've hit a level where we're the people our purveyors want to do business with. Our fish quality is unbelievable. In 17 years of working with food, I've never seen fish so amazing.
Where does your fish come from?
We have fish delivered every day from every coast imaginable. They come in and open it up in front of us, and if there's something we don't like, they take it back—no questions.
Is the 500 block of Gay Street different from the 100 block?
On the 100 block we were a destination. People came to stay and be there a while. Now we get more people who are in a hurry. We've had to change the way we do some things. We worked on getting our ticket times down so people can make it to the movie or the symphony. We are so much closer to our wonderful theaters, the opera, the symphony, Regal Cinemas, all the great concerts AC brings in. Those are all great draws for us. We can all be good neighbors.
Is the Bearden location different from downtown?
It's the same Nama, the same sources, the same menu, but there's a different demographic. We focus our specials differently. People request different fish, wine, and liquor.
Who developed the menu?
This has always been a chef-driven concept. The owners allow the chefs the ability to be creative. When you love what you're doing, the food naturally tastes better.
What's your favorite thing on the menu?
The Katsudan. Panko-breaded pork tenderloin with a sweet-soy omelet sauce. It's unbelievable. It's one of our new hot food items. My other favorite thing is to get a chef's platter and tell them to make it fun. It's not uncommon for us to run out of platters. People just want the chefs to have fun. They say, "Just make it tasty."
Is there still a secret menu?
It's not as extensive as it used to be. The secret menu began because we very early on saw the need to offer the chef's choice. The secret menu was a compilation of all the great rolls people loved. We eventually had to write them down. Now a lot of them are on the menu.
What's in the fantasy sauce? Is that a secret?
There's a couple of different things that make it so good. We use a really good sake and good soy sauce. And that's probably all I can tell you.