East Nashville's Watanabe is closing, and here's why

Watanabe
 
Good chance you’ve already heard the disappointing news: After six years in Riverside Village, East Nashville sushi/Asian fusion stop Watanabe is set to close its doors for good as of Sunday, Nov. 16.
 
Launched initially by busy East Side restaurateur Matt Charette and chef/co-owner Hide Watanabe, the restaurant had a share of growing pains after its namesake’s exit (he left to move closer to family after the 2011 tsunami that struck Japan, Charette says). But with retooling and rejiggering, often informed by customer feedback, Watanabe hit a stride of steady growth in recent years, with a menu that spanned from fresh sushi to ramen and bibimbap. 
 
Unfortunately, Charette says, even their strong growth wasn’t keeping pace.
 
“Year to date, business is up 17 percent. Last year, business grew 17 percent. So the staff that we have and have had for the past couple of years is doing a phenomenal job and we’re growing the business,” he says. “The problem is we’re growing behind the cost of doing business, instead of growing ahead of the cost of doing business. And so that’s really what fueled the decision. 
 
“People are saying, you know, ‘I’m sorry you’re losing your business,’ but it’s not about the business. For me it’s about the people. We have such a great staff — any restaurant or bar in Nashville would be lucky to have any of those people that are working there. They’re phenomenal people, and that’s what makes it the hardest.”
 
Matt CharetteMatt Charette photo: Chuck Allen from the March/April 2011 issue of The East Nashvillian
 
The two weeks' notice before the doors close was meant to be something of a goodbye opportunity for the neighborhood, the restaurant’s friends and fans and, most explicitly, the staff.
 
“With respect for the people who work over there, the incredible staff, I didn’t want them just to show up and see a note on the door with a padlock on it saying, ‘Hey, we’re closed and you’re out of a job,’” Charette says. “I expect a two-week notice from my employees when they’re going somewhere else and I wanted to give them the two-week notice as well. And my plan is… the talk of ‘Oh we’ll run the inventory down..’ No. That’s not what’s really important to me. I want our last meal to be as good as every other meal we’ve served.”
 
Business has been extra brisk since word of the closing got out, so to ensure that Watanabe is fully staffed and prepped, starting Monday, Nov. 10, hours are limited to happy hour and dinner from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. And while you don’t need to make a reservation to pop by, Charette and staff encourage and appreciate a heads up at 615-226-1112 to help with wind-down planning. 
 
After Watanabe’s doors close, Charette’s immediate plans are to focus on his three other East Side businesses — Batter’d & Fried, Drifters and Beyond the Edge — and to funnel lessons learned into those busy restaurants.
 
“I think one of the best pieces of advice I got is, ‘Take the time to learn all the lessons you’re gonna learn from Watanabe,’” he says. “And I think one of the lessons that I learned from Watanabe is, having four different concepts is incredibly challenging. If you have multiple locations of the same restaurant, your food costing, your menu planning, your staffing, it’s all very similar, similar systems. But when you have four places with different concepts, you’re constantly trying to solve four different series of problems, as opposed to being able to solve one problem and then apply it to the other locations.”
 
Once the doors close for good, though, Watanabe devotees may still find a few familial nods to the long-loved Inglewood eatery in the neighborhood.
 
“One of the things that the general manager over here at Batter’d & Fried [Meagan Stroop] asked was, [since] some of the sushi chefs work at both places, ‘Can we maybe do a  tribute to Watanabe and serve some of their more popular rolls for a little while after they close?’” Charette says. “I said, ‘That’s a great idea.’ So Monday the 17th we may start serving some of the more popular sushi items at Batter’d & Fried for a little while. A little tribute to Watanabe and the great stuff that they did over there.”
 

BE THERE

 
If you’d like to share a goodbye/thanks and some last meals at Watanabe, head to 1400 McGavock Pike, at Riverside. Hours from Monday, Nov. 10 through Watanabe’s final day open on Sunday, Nov. 16, are 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Reservations are appreciated but not required, at 615-226-1112.
 

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Matt Baggett on November 06, 2014 said:
Matt Charette. Class act. Period.

Aimee Nesse on November 06, 2014 said:
This saddens me. I was a fan from conception of this spot and when I moved back to East Nashville I found a house close to Watanabe so I could walk down there. My husband and I had our first date there and many more after we were married. Good luck, Matt Charette and all the other employees. I wish you all success in whatever comes next! Cheers!

Rick Beaty on November 06, 2014 said:
Yes, this is sad news for us East Nashvillians, but Matt Charette is a great guy and we all will continue to visit his three other establishments.

michelle spaziano on November 06, 2014 said:
Matt Charette is a CLASS ACT for sure! And when one door closes another one opens and I wouldn't expect anything less from Mr. Charette than to knock out something else great or even better down the line......

Erica on November 06, 2014 said:
we love eating at the establishments Matt owns and thinks that they are assets to the neighborhood. However I don't feel they have done adapting to the brand-development and cleanliness standards that this new community demands. I hope that the remaining three restaurants will take note of that so they remain successful for many years to come.

Sarah Price on November 06, 2014 said:
Watanabe will be missed in Riverside Village.

Andra Brewer on November 07, 2014 said:
Great place that will be missed. I take comfort knowing I can still get some of the great Sushi at Batter'd and Fried!

renee on November 09, 2014 said:
Watanabe is one of my favorite restaurants in this town, Battered being another. Matt, hands down has the best sushi!! We frequent Watanabe a least once a week if not more. Me and my family will definitely miss the great food and great service. We will see you more often at battered. Thanks Matt!! And good luck..

Bryan Hall on November 17, 2014 said:
Matt is a great guy and very hands on. He welcome's feedback and implements good suggestions. I love his restaurants. I'm a frequent flyer at BTE and B&F. Keep up the good work Matt & Thanks! Bryan