Toshi and Yasu Kizaki have built a Japanese empire on South Pearl Street, expanding the success of Sushi Den into Izakaya Den and, last year, Ototo Food and Wine Bar. Because of the nature of sushi, they import a lot of their fish from Japan. But because they wanted to use more local ingredients, last year, they also picked up a farm.
"Toshi and Yasu really wanted to have something local and be able to plant a lot of Japanese vegetables," explains Ellen Marchman, spokeswoman for the restaurants. And they wanted the chefs to be able to drive out and pick what they needed."
So in January of this year, they bought an 6.5-acre property in Brighton from a couple that had farmed the plot for a long time. "The farmer stayed and helped plant," says Marchman, "but he left before harvest season," turning over the reins to Nobi Sakai, who'd been a sushi chef and restaurant manager for 25 years before deciding he wanted to return to the land and farm. He now lives at the farm full-time, tending the crops that the restaurant planted with a small farm crew.
And there are a lot of crops. Earlier this year, the group hand-planted dozens of varieties of produce, including eighteen kinds of tomato plants, broccoli, bell peppers, jalapeños, leeks, several different potatoes, a half-dozen types of greens, eggplant, turnips, radishes, squash, edamame beans and shiso, along with many other herbs.
The farm was wildly successful, too. The only crop that gave Sakai problems was the spinach, which was planted at the wrong time. Overall, the farmer estimates that he had less than 10 percent waste. His own favorite crop coming from the land was the lemon cucumbers. The chefs, he says, loved the tomatoes.
Tomatoes are still on the menu, in the form of the Den Farm tomato salad. This harvest season, restaurant patrons can also taste restaurant-grown produce via the Den Farm vegetable tempura, the Den Farm beet salad and the pumpkin crème brulee.
And farm offerings will only expand, since in addition to planting more of the same crops, Sakai has some big plans in the works for next year: "Plans are in process for a 3,000 square-foot passive solar green house," he says. "This will allow only sunlight as heat versus gas or electric. It will allow ground temperature to not drop under 51 degrees and in the summer not go above 90 degrees." That will give the restaurants an early spring crop, as well as the opportunity to plant some things the farm can't grow in Colorado's outdoor climate, like additional citrus trees and fruits.
Marchman says the farm has worked the way Toshi and Yasu envisioned it: The chefs do, indeed, head up to Brighton for what they need: "The chefs go out on Monday, and they pick what they want and then write the menus."
It's a practice that will continue to grow with the farm.
Read about other restaurateurs with farms this harvest season: