Michael Cuglietta is a Florida writer. His work has appeared in NOON, The Gettysburg Review, Tampa Review and Passages North. He is the author of the chapbook, Vertigo (Gertrude Press, 2014). He can be reached at [email protected].
On New Year’s Day, Kappo, the seven seat omakase bar in the East End Market, will be closing. While owners Jennifer Banagale, Mark Berdin and Lordfer Lalicon search for a spot to open a standalone restaurant, they will transform their space at the East End Market into a Japanese style convenience store, known as a konbini.
“The Market has been a great incubator,” Lalicon explains. “Now Kappo is all grown up and ready for its own space.”
Anyone who has tried reserving a seat at the popular dining spot knows Kappo has outgrown their small corner of the East End Market. But local fans of Japanese cuisine need not worry. The Kappo brand has made a home in Central Florida, where it plans on staying.
“Closing the omakase bar is not the end of Kappo,” says head chef and owner Mark Berdin. “It’s merely the end of the beginning.”
They plan on opening the convenience store by mid-January, in the spot where the omakase bar now stands. And they are currently scouting locations for a new restaurant.
The Japanese love their convenience stores. Per capita, Japan has four times as many conveniences stores as America. In a Japanese konbini, there are no frozen chicken products nor low quality pizzas, coagulating under a heat lamp. A Japanese konbini is a place where people can purchase high-quality food, made with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, at an affordable price.
In addition to ready-made meals and snacks, including the chirashi bowls and sashimi platers currently on offer, Kappo’s konbini will have an assortment of Japanese ingredients for the home cook and Japanese beverages, including sake.
They also plan on highlighting food from other Asian countries.
“I’d like to introduce Orlando to the Filipino dishes I was raised on,” Lalicon says.
Jennifer, Mark and Lordfer met while attending the University of Florida. Upon graduation, they moved to New York City. Mark worked at Morimoto and 15 East before taking a position as sou-chef at London’s Umu, which was recently awarded its second Michelin star.
Jennifer started her career as pastry chef at the Plaza Hotel. She also worked at Umu, where she put a Japanese spin on traditional French desserts.
Lordfer worked under Chef Dan Barber at his revered eatery Blue Hill. He was part of the opening team at Carbone, which went on to earn a Michelin star and a three-star New York Times review.