I witnessed the kind of chaos that would completely shatter any normal restaurant crew: dining rooms filled to double-capacity, lines stretching out the door, crowds waiting out on the sidewalks and absolutely no room to move on the floor. The Southlands outpost of Tokyo Joe's is designed like a Ginza noodle shop with table seating; snaky, communal counters that run through cramped spaces along walls or around dividers; standing room for those in a rush, with narrow ledges for setting down bowls. As seen above and between all the bodies, the design is urban-Asian minimalism, hip without being annoying, all organic curves and wood and steel. The TVs in the background usually show CNN and ESPN, sometimes movies, often cartoons, and the sound system plays non-threatening techno. A sign stuck on a post near the door tells potential customers not to worry, that no matter how long the line might look, it moves really goddamn fast.
This week, I'm diving into the fast-casual/chain restaurant world with a review of the Tokyo Joe's operation, which celebrates its ten-year anniversary this year. With good noodles, bad sushi and a business model that's killing it everywhere owner Larry Leith (shown above) plants a new location, Joe's is one worth watching.
Disagree? Screw you. Tell it to the comment button at the bottom, pal. But first, read the full review in the paper that hits the streets tomorrow -- and will appear on this web site around the same time.
In the same issue, I make fun of McDonald's and eat at the restaurant that actually started Denver's obsession with fast casual Japanese. Can you guess which restaurant that is? Here's a hint: it wasn't Tokyo Joe's, no matter how Leith tells the story...--Jason Sheehan