“Gaijin” is a not-so-nice Japanese word used to describe foreigners; it literally translates to “foreigner”. Gregg Lockwood and Joe Schindler, owners of Gaijin Omakase and 11 *********** Star Bar (that’s eleven stars, “six or seven more than most competitors,” as Gaijin Omakase’s website notes), are just that.
They are new to Denver and moved to the Mile High City just days before all restaurants closed on March 17, 2020 – so they didn’t have much of a chance to get to know the city or the food scene before they started. work. on this project. Although they are (obviously) not Japanese, they decided to open an omakase style restaurant, a traditional Japanese concept that means “The choice is yours”. The omakase option is most often offered in sushi restaurants, when customers cede control of the meal to the chef who distributes dishes without a set menu.
But Lockwood and Schindler know all of this. They put “gaijin” in the name, after all, and both embrace disrespect. “It’s what I do in the morning,” admits Lockwood.
This is Lockwood’s fourth restaurant. He previously owned stores in Berlin, Germany, Jackson Hole – where he and Schindler met and opened a wine store together – and upstate New York. Schindler put together the wine list for Lockwood’s last restaurant called, yes, “Schindler’s List.” For several years Lockwood worked as a private chef and had clients in Vail and Beaver Creek; he often traveled through Denver and “had really fallen in love” with the city, he said.
After deciding he wanted to return to the restaurant business and move to Denver, Lockwood contacted Schindler, who still lived in Jackson Hole. The two took the step, only for the pandemic to interfere. “We had a very different plan for a restaurant than this one,” says Lockwood, “but when COVID happened, we said,“ Let’s shut down and protect a place from COVID. “” The eight-seat Gaijin Omakase, which focuses on premium seafood service (and other surprises), was the result.
“I’ve been dreaming of a sushi concept for a few years, it’s always been in my head,” says Lockwood. This desire stems from his experience of traveling to Japan and eating at small sushi counters there.
Gaijin Omakase has been open quietly since July and is located … well, Lockwood and Schindler have requested that the specific location not be shared. “If you dig, you can find it,” admits Lockwood. But the mystery is part of the appeal. As the website states, it is five minutes from Cherry Creek. In fact, it’s hidden in plain sight, behind an unassuming storefront filled with seemingly random photos and “11 **************** Tours & Logistics” displayed on printer paper white in front of a curtain that blocks any view of the interior.
Reservations are required to get inside, where the experience of a multi-course chef’s table – and on-demand karaoke, if you’re so taken with the flowing alcohol – awaits you. Lockwood and Schindler work together at the counter, interacting with guests and creating an intimate party atmosphere. “It’s not at all stuffy,” notes Lockwood. There’s also a back door with a buzzer, for guests who prefer to avoid being seen from the street side, a consideration members of Denver’s sports teams, for example, might appreciate.
The menu will change depending on what is available: Lockwood is first and foremost about quality. “There will be a few basic products, but the fish is very seasonal,” he explains. “And we’re really getting into the season now. Summer is the worst part of the year for sushi.” Instead of sake, the dishes are accompanied by wine, chosen by Schindler. The bar is also stocked and selections include several rare liquors; the whiskey is often opened at the end of the meal. Both tell guests up front that it’s best not to drive here. “Come and catch a buzz, have a good time, let go. I want you to come here looking to have a good time and we’ll make that easy.” Lockwood Notes.
All this fun comes at a price that is admittedly steep for Denver. During the week of September 8, the meal was $ 380 per person, which included wine as well as seventeen plates. Unlike most places with a similar price, customers do not pay in advance. “If you’re unhappy with my food or service, you walk away billless, drunk and with a bottle of wine in your hand wondering what just happened,” Lockwood says.
While Denver has plenty of options for breakfast burritos and burgers, high-end meals like this are much less common. But as the city grows, the food scene changes. “In Seattle and New York, Chicago, you can have it all,” Lockwood says. “You can have the fatty sausage and you can have the tip-top … It’s about having options.”
“Where do you go when it’s a date, a birthday or a friend’s birthday and you say, ‘I want to have the best meal,’ adds Schindler. a year, or once in a lifetime, but where do you go when you want … ”
“Breathe out,” Lockwood said, ending the thought.
Dinner is served from Wednesday to Sunday at 6.30 p.m. After 10:00 p.m., the space becomes the 11 *********** Star Bar and is open for cocktails, caviar and other delicacies until late at night. Lockwood and Schindler phone numbers are listed on the website and are the key to making a reservation for entry.
Despite the secrecy, the vibes of the sweatshop and the feeling of exclusivity, fun remains the main thing here. “We’re not a snob,” Lockwood says. “I just care whether you like it or not.”