The family owners of a Japanese restaurant that has served Chandler for 19 years are planning a second eatery in Gilbert.
Shimogamo was opened in 2003 by Yoshio and Sanae Otomo, who moved to Arizona in 1994 from Japan. Their daughter, Mika Otomo, now runs the restaurant and the family recently broke ground for a second location in San Tan Village.
“My father worked at a Japanese trading company and was assigned to Chandler in 1994,” said Mika, managing director of Shimogamo (pronounced shoo-moh-gah-moh). My parents, Sanae and Yoshio Otomo, decided to live here and not go back to Japan because my mom loved the lifestyle.”
Her dad’s company was sold in the early 2000’s so Otomo said her dad left it and decided to venture into the restaurant business.
“He was always interested in doing the restaurant business but I had never seen him cook,” Mika laughed, adding that her mother also had no restaurant background.
“The only restaurant background they had was my grandfather – my father’s father,” said Mika, who left the corporate life to become a professional sommelier in the wine, sake and beverage industry.
Five years ago, while she was in Tokyo, Mika met her husband, who was an executive chef at Alexander’s Steakhouse. The couple took over the operation of the restaurant near Dobson and Warner roads three years ago.
“With our background, we started upgrading the menu quality and price, more higher-end,” she explained. “The items we got rid of were mostly homestyle noodle or rice dishes. We switched our gears to serving more premium quality protein-based dishes.”
Mika described the restaurant’s fare as more authentic, family-style food that’s not so Americanized. She said good Japanese food has a simple flavor profile without too much sugar, ketchup or mayonnaise.
“There are a lot of things that deviate from the original flavor profile of Japanese cuisine,” Mika said. “We hired a head sushi chef who used to work at higher end sushi restaurants. He’s working on making sure the quality meets the standard we’ve set.”
She said the most popular sushi item is the Truffle Amberjack. “It’s the sashimi of amberjack with the sauce of truffle ponzu and a little truffle oil topped with micro cilantro and radish.”
For non-Sushi, Otomo recommends the Japanese Wagyu beef. “With my husband, who’s coming from a very high-end steakhouse, he knows how to handle Wagyu…Wagyu is all about the cuts and treatment.”
“Obviously, we do have the Wagyu steak, the Wagyu skewers and Wagyu carpaccio which is my favorite,” said Mika. “
The restaurant closed for eight months during the pandemic but thanks to loyal customers who ordered takeout, survived.
“I have to give it to my parents,” Mika said. “We have a great number of clientele who just loved us locally… I’ve seen them go through a lot of hard times. But they survived. They kept growing the clientele. Everyone kept coming back for takeout.”
As far as the competition, she added, “I think what sets us completely apart is the skill level and authenticity of the Japanese cooking.”
“Of course, some ingredients can be fishy,” she said. “I just don’t want people to be afraid of it because we know how to make it taste right. That’s what the Japanese cooking is all about – highlighting the ingredients and delivering the pure goodness of the food to the table.
“A lot of people are afraid of those ingredients. I think it’s also happening with the younger generations, too. They rely so much on sugar and salt.”
Mika has been introducing a lot of high-end premium sake to the menu.
“Sake is not about sake bomber or hot sake to get drunk,” she explained. “It’s really like wine. It should be treated in the same way (more to complement the meal). It can be pricey sometimes but it’s definitely worth it. I’m introducing a lot of premium sake to the menu and they’re sold out every weekend. With the right guidance and right introduction, people are willing to try out the new high end quality items from Japan.”
When the Gilbert location opens, Otomo said the same menu will be offered but the operation will be more efficient in a new building.