Since 2017, sleek Kuma Sushi has served rolls named after neighboring businesses — for example, the Jackalope named for the nearby bar and the Barley, an homage to the beer destination next door — to legions of fans. Now, the restaurant on the corner of Polk and Post Streets will open a second location in the Mission District in late spring 2023, and owners Cory Jackson and Ryo Sakai plan to take that same level of neighborliness to a whole new level. The second restaurant, located at 198 Valencia Street, will pour exclusive sakes sourced by Beau Timken, of Hayes Valley sake shop True Sake, in addition to featuring much-upgraded lighting and design. “Now that we have a little bit of experience under our belts, we can focus on things we feel are important,” Jackson says.
The menu at the second location, which Tablehopper broke the news on in September, will be very much like the first, centered on straight-up sushi like Hokkaido scallops and firefly squid from the Hyogo prefecture. But the sake from Timken is a major offering; True Sake claims to be the first sake-dedicated shop outside of Japan and the first in America. Opening in 2003, Timken cantilevered his business acumen and single-minded thinking to become a sake aficionado passionately dedicated to introducing Americans to rice wine.
The showcasing of True Sake bottles at the new outpost is a collaborative relationship. Sakai points out it allows Timken to sell more sake, obviously, but also allows his fans to try some rare rice wines by the glass alongside an order of top-notch sushi. “They can come to us and taste it with food,” Sakai says. “We sell every single sake we have by the glass.” Jackson adds that Timken’s contacts with tiny distributors in Japan mean lots of other restaurants in the Bay Area could start similar referral-style relationships with True Sake, if they haven’t already.
The new location is in the five-story complex that, somewhat infamously, is set to cast its shadow over Zeitgeist’s sunny beer garden. Kuma’s second outpost will take over a groundfloor space, one that Jackson and Sakai just got the keys to in the last month. Unlike the first location, which is in a building from the 1910s where “everything was a disaster in the remodel,” Jackson says, the brand new space is theirs to create. The co-owners are using the same designers as at their first restaurant, Sweitzer Inc. and Pablo Ortiz, with a continued emphasis on distressed materials, wood screens, and poured concrete.
Importantly, the entrepreneurs point out a commitment to food-centric lighting. Think of overhead lights at tables and at the sushi bar, though not as much as Son and Garden, which is just down the street from the original location. Sakai says they realize everyone wants to take pictures of their food, and they’d like to dip their toes in the power of free Instagram marketing that so many other Bay Area restaurants have capitalized upon. “The food is the star,” Jackson adds. “It’s a dark ambiance elsewhere, but the lighting is focused.”
They hope to open in April, and they also hope to send lots of business to Zeitgeist. Sakai points out Kuma doesn’t take reservations; they prefer to send walk-ins to have a drink nearby while they wait, so the beer garden across the street makes a natural fit. Like Zeitgeist, Jackson and Sakai want their business to become a regular go-to spot for the Mission. “We’re a casual neighborhood sushi spot,” Sakai says. “We want to be easy to approach.”
Kuma Sushi + Sake will open in late spring 2023 at 198 Valencia Street.