East Austin upscale omakase restaurant Sushi|Bar ATX — which had been operating out of the private dining room of recently closed casual Japanese restaurant Bento Picnic and its wine shop Saba San’s — is taking over the entire Holly building space at 2600 East Cesar Chavez Street, as confirmed by a rep.
Bento/Saba ower Leanne Valenti decided to close up her businesses over the weekend on February 18. She noted to Eater that she’s taking a sabbatical to figure out her next moves, but that the restaurant will be available for catering gigs. It’s unclear when Sushi|Bar will take over the rest of the casual restaurant space. Eater has reached out for more information; watch this space for updates.
Sushi|Bar’s original co-founders, California chefs and couple Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee, started the omakase restaurant in Los Angeles in 2016 under their hospitality groups Scratch Restaurants. They wanted to expand the restaurant into Austin during the winter 2020 COVID-19 surge when Los Angeles banned all dine-in services. They connected with Valenti, who offered up the private dining room. It opened as a pop-up in late December 2020 and was made permanent in the summer of 2021 because the omakase was so popular and was booked out way in advance.
However later in 2021, Lee and Kallas-Lee sold the Austin location of Sushi|Bar to new owners who made staffer Ambrely Ouimette the head chef. The couple renamed their Los Angeles and Montecito, California locations to Sushi by Scratch Restaurants, and opened a new location outside of Austin in Cedar Creek in March 2022. The chefs also expanded their one-Michelin-starred Los Angeles Italian tasting menu restaurant Pasta|Bar into Austin that same month. They’re also supposed to be opening another omakase restaurant, Shokunin, in the Hill Country.
And then, interestingly enough, both Sushi|Bar and Sushi by Scratch have been on an out-of-Austin expansion kick into the same cities. Both opened in Miami (Sushi by Scratch in July 2022 and Sushi|Bar in September 2022), and then in Chicago (Sushi by Scratch in February 2022, Sushi|Bar in the spring of 2023). Additionally, Sushi by Scratch opened in Seattle in September 2022, and Sushi|Bar is opening in Dallas at some point.
Update, February 22, 1:11 p.m.: This article, originally published on February 21, has been updated to reflect that Lee’s and Kallas-Lee’s hospitality group was always named Scratch Restaurants, and that that they sold the Austin location of Sushi|Bar to new owners who promoted head chef Ambrely Ouimette,