Mixing business and pleasure is a challenge for most people, but it wasn’t for Takashi Inoue and Saheem Ali, who are both partners and business partners, running the West Village Japanese temple to all things beef, Takashi. We called them up to learn about what it’s like running a restaurant together and how a night at the Roxy resulted in true love.
First off, which came first — working together or being in a relationship?
Saheem: Opening the restaurant was the first time we had a chance to work on something together.
So what’s it like working together and being in a relationship?
Saheem: I used to work in a law firm and then I was a theater director, so I really relied on [Takashi] for his experience and the cooking, and I brought a sense of organization from the theater world. We knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses so it worked well.
Takashi: It was hard at first, though.
Where did you guys meet?
Takashi: We met at the Roxy. It was a club here in New York.
Saheem: It was the last night — the club was shutting down. Even though it was closing, it was the beginning of our relationship.
What made you decide to open Takashi?
Takashi: I always had a dream of opening a restaurant. And then I met Saheem, but I didn’t think it would work because he had no restaurant experience. But then we were planning together and, like he said, we are a good team. I do the cooking and he does the managerial.
So what inspired you to open a restaurant that focuses specifically on grilling beef?
Takashi: Because it’s my soul food, and my grandma opened this kind of restaurant in my hometown of Osaka 50 years ago.
Takashi is known for specializing in offal and odd cuts of meat. Do people generally gravitate toward that or do they get scared?
Saheem: It really depends on the sense of adventure that people have. Some people come in for skirt steak, and some people come in and want to try raw liver for the first time.
Where does the beef served at the restaurant come from?
Saheem: We have a farm that’s one of our biggest suppliers and they produce Washugyu, which is a cross between American Angus and Japanese Kobe beef. Japan Premium Beef. We also get our product from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats, which is in the Chelsea Market, and also from Pat LaFrieda.
Do you each have a favorite cut of beef?
Takashi: The large intestine because it’s chewy and juicy.
Saheem: My favorite is skirt steak. It has amazing flavor. Do you ever get vegetarians who come into the restaurant?
Saheem: We do. And we have a really interesting selection of vegetables. Takashi features whatever is freshest. He goes to the Greenmarket in Union Square three times a week and gets what’s seasonal.
Takashi: I’m mainly serving beef at the restaurant so I wanted something seasonal.
Saheem: In Japan, food is very seasonal so it was his way of bringing seasonality to the restaurants. So vegetarians and vegans have given us the stamp of approval. We even had three vegetarians who came and decided to eat meat for the first time and they were just blown away!
Ha! It’s like you took their virginity. Well, among meat-eaters, what’s harder for people to stomach: the raw liver or flash-boiled stomach?
Saheem: The raw liver, since a lot of people don’t tend to gravitate to liver anyway, and then making it raw is one more step further. But Dickson’s has it really fresh. We get the liver that’s been slaughtered that week and we serve the tip of the liver. It’s drizzled with sesame oil and salt and pepper.
Have you had any kitchen disasters?
Saheem: Well, the large intestine is really fatty and sometimes the piece of meat will catch fire and a flame will shoot up.
Finally, what are you going to be doing this weekend for Pride?
Saheem: We’re going to go dancing. That’s how we met and that’s something that we really enjoy doing together. We’re going to Alegria; it’s a party that happens like six times a year.
Check back in tomorrow, when Takashi and Saheem reveal their new gay ice cream topping!
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