Christina Kelso July 12, 2013 The Florida Times-Union
Original Publication Link: Couple brings sushi to Middleburg
MIDDLEBURG | Pressing the knife steadily in the palm of his hand, Andy Himawan directs its blade with mechanical precision. Each motion matters. As it slips across the cutting board, his eyes carefully trail over its path, inspecting each new incision.
The knife is one of six that Himawan keeps ready, stored neatly in cloth wrappings behind the counter of his sushi bar.
The thickest cleaves through bone, while the thinnest of the set is capable of slicing fish and vegetables into thin, nearly translucent slivers.
Under the sway of his hands and imagination, these tools carve down the raw shapes and textures of fish, vegetables and grains, to then be reimagined as an art form of both appearance and taste.
“Once you know the ingredients, you can really use them,” Himawan said. “It’s all about experimenting and imagining to create something new.”
He practices this craft within the tight-knit walls of Middleburg’s Sushi Bistro, working alongside his wife and co-owner, Jessica Himawan.
Since opening the restaurant in fall 2010, the pair have carved out a successful niche within the small town’s dining scene. Barely visible from the road, the storefront rests nestled in the coils of a Branan Field Road shopping center.
“It’s a welcoming and safe atmosphere,” said James LeClare, a frequent customer.
Sushi Bistro, the couple’s first business, represents the culmination of a long dream. Prior to making the decision to strike out on their own, Andy and Jessica collected experience in the industry, bouncing through a variety of restaurant jobs from Sacramento, Calif., to Middleburg.
“We wanted to make our own money,” said Jessica Himawan. “We knew restaurants.”
While at first, their idea of opening the first-ever sushi restaurant in “The Burg” was met with skepticism by some, the Himawans were not discouraged by any cookie-cutter Middleburg stereotype.
“Anything can become possible if you believe in it,” Andy Himawan said.
The placement was one that they would not regret. The small town proved to be an opportunity to gain regulars and develop friendships.
“The people here are diverse,” Jessica Himawan said. “We’ve met a lot of interesting people with different stories to tell.”
The Himawans described the opportunities they’ve had to get to know customers as the best part of their experience running the restaurant.
“The hardest part was introducing a different type of food,” Andy Himawan said. “It was challenging. You have a lot of barriers to break through to make it interesting to people.”
The Himawans took on the challenge by presenting a fusion menu, offering a combination of traditional style sushi, unorthodox rolls of their own creations and an assortment of cooked dishes to suit a variety of palates.
Now, the quiet restaurant may be on the brink of a turning point. As St. Vincent’s Clay County Campus prepares to open across the street Oct. 1, Sushi Bistro and other area businesses are anticipating a large influx of customers. It’s a change that the couple expressed mixed feelings about, weighing the increase in business with the risk of losing the store’s comfortable small-town feel. As construction rolls on, they have resigned to simply “see what happens” and adapt as needed.
“It’s going to get really busy but again the store is small,” LeClare said. “There probably won’t be as much socializing among the people who go there but Andy will be the same. He will still welcome everybody and everybody will feel like they’re at home.”