For years, Tim and Nancy Cushman have run two O Ya restaurants — one in Boston and the other in New York City — to much acclaim. Now, the James Beard Award-winning restaurateurs plan to bring their lauded Japanese concept to Mexico City. The newest O Ya will open in April, a collaboration with local restaurateur Javier Romo, who has been a regular guest at O Ya in Boston and New York over the years.
“He approached us a couple years ago and was such a fan of the restaurant,” says Nancy Cushman. Romo’s family has a long history in hospitality, and he himself has opened 14 restaurants in Mexico since 2009. “Being a restaurateur, he really wanted to take it to Mexico City. He really loved it. And we fell in love with him too, because he’s so passionate about food in general and experiences and restaurants.”
Romo and the Cushmans selected a location in Polanco (Anatole France 70) to build out O Ya Mexico City, and Romo’s team of chefs and managers has already trained with the Cushmans in Boston ahead of an April opening. “We sat down and went through every dish on the menu and we’re making adjustments in Mexico, using local ingredients where we can,” Tim Cushman says.
Like the other two restaurants, O Ya in Mexico City will offer an a la carte menu along with omakase and a grand tasting focused on non-traditional sushi. Like the New York location, Mexico City’s will offer cocktails along with wine, sake, and whiskey. New additions in Mexico include a terrace for outdoor dining and a charcoal grill for yakitori. Where in Boston and New York Tim Cushman is known for tapping global flavors for traditional Japanese preparations, the Mexico City team will carry on that goal while making ample use of local resources and producers.
With chef Nathan Gould, Cushman developed a miso made of black beans, which will be on the menu in Mexico City, and he’s working to develop a pinto bean tofu. Cushman sees the seafood-rich, bold menu of O Ya as a natural fit for Mexico City, where there’s great seafood available, along with beans, fresh and dried chiles, and herbs like cilantro.
“We’re already using a lot of citrus, we’re already using a lot of ingredients that are familiar to a Mexican palate,” he says.
O Ya will join a burgeoning Japanese restaurant scene in Mexico City, built up in large part by hospitality group Edo Kobayashi, which is behind izakaya-inspired Rokai, Sushi Kyo, and Le Tachinomi Desu, to name a few. O Ya will be situated in the same neighborhood as Pujol, chef Enrique Olvera’s restaurant that’s ranked on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
“We’re looking forward to joining that community and the restaurant community at large, and just being part of that whole fabric and community there. It’s really exciting for us,” Nancy Cushman says.
The buildout of O Ya Mexico City, with designs from Kristian Arciniega Kunz and the team at Grupo Arks, will recreate elements of the other two restaurants, with a sushi counter, a chef’s counter open to the kitchen, and the outdoor terrace. In renovations, crews unearthed exposed brick, an element also seen in Boston and New York, and the Cushmans decided to “let the natural building show through.”
“In the buildout, we’re going to try to use as much local woods as we can,” Tim Cushman says. “We located some pottery makers that will be making some of the plates that we’ll be using.”
The Cushmans will travel to Mexico City for the opening, and on an as-needed basis, largely entrusting operations to Romo and his team.
“It’s our first baby. We’re kind of letting someone else tend to the baby, if you will,” says Nancy Cushman. “Certainly we’ve always hoped that we could go international, but we wanted it to be the right city, the right time, the right opportunity... patience is a virtue and the timing just became right at this point. It feels really good for us, as a group.”
The news follows on the heels of the Boston restaurant’s James Beard Awards semifinalist nod for Outstanding Restaurant, an honor only available to restaurants open 10 years or more. Says Nancy Cushman, “O Ya is really fun because it’s continuing to evolve over time.”