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Phillip Ozaki

Episode 073

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The Fusion of Chef and Basketball

Phillip Ozaki's SGV3

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About Phillip Ozaki

Phillip Ozaki’s culinary journey began not with utensils and ingredients in hand, but as a 16-year-old dishwasher in a Mississippi restaurant. With the freedom and trust given to him in his first job, he happily became more involved with the restaurant, picking up basic cooking skills over time before working his own station. From there, Ozaki’s passion for cooking took root and began to blossom.

Upon moving back to California in 2007, Ozaki enrolled in culinary school and proceeded to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Culinary Management. Since then, he has worked in the culinary industry at a professional capacity for over 15 years, spanning various restaurant styles and occupying operational roles at every level. Chef Ozaki’s experience includes flexing his managerial chops at Japanese BBQ giant Gyu Kaku, developing his culinary style as Head Chef at Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, leading the menu creation for LA street food brand Dirt Dog, and most recently, operating as Head Chef at renowned sushi chain Katsuya. ⁠

Phillip Ozaki’s latest venture is Roe Japanese Fusion, which officially launched in September 2021. It is an upscale dining restaurant that elevates the existing hybrid Japanese sushi & steakhouse cuisine and introduces a unique blend of exotic cocktails, whiskey and sake selections. Roe is located centrally within the tight-knit community of Sierra Madre and is adjacent to major affluent suburban cities of San Gabriel Valley. Utilizing the foundation Chef Ungrue constructed while enhancing the existing menu palette through the imagination of our own Chef Phillip Ozaki and his creative blend of flavors, ROE Japanese Fusion is driven to win the hearts of a tight-knit community and exceed the customers’ expectations.

Website: roefusion.com

Email: admin@roefusion.com

Phone: 626-921-0198

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Phillip Ozaki Quotes

  • “I think [cooking] was probably the biggest ones, because before that leaving high school I was pretty much heading on a straight track to prison or the grave. Literally, it was all bad.”
  • “Basketball was pretty much always part of my life.”
  • “Most of my basketball time, I met friends and met at the park. Instead of a gym rat, I guess I was a park rat.”
  • “I said, okay, well if that is the official hot dog and that is the staple item we are going to sell, we should trademark being the official hotdog of Los Angeles.”
  • “For me, it wasn’t a cohesive fusion. So, I decided to take it and revamp it and put my own twist on it. So we pretty much changed everything. There’s nothing they sold before that we still have.”
  • Phil is a restauranteur and owns Roe Japanese Fusion.
  • Phil is mixed, half Japanese and half French.
  • He attended the Art Institute in Orange County for culinary school.
  • Phil grew up with a rough crowd and was sent to a correctional facility in Mississippi, where he eventually learned hobbies that led to his passion for cooking.
  • Phil is on the smaller side, 5 foot 6 and 130 lbs, but is incredibly talented and competitive at pick-up basketball.

WHAT IS THE NAME OF PHIL’S RESTAURANT?

Phil’s restaurant is called Roe Japanese Fusion, and it is located in Sierra Madre.

HOW DID PHILL LEARN ABOUT COOKING?

Phil finds that his education is accumulated from all of his years and experience. However, Phil did attend cooking school. In four years, he earned his Bachelor’s degree in culinary management.

He found in culinary school; you get a taste of everything. Your intro class teaches you stocks, sauces, basic cooking skills, knife cuts, etc.

As you progress through classes, the courses become much more specific to particular cuisines.

He was disappointed that when he graduated, he was told technically, he was still not a chef.

WHERE DID PHILL GROW UP?

Phil grew up in San Gabriel Valley.

He was born in Pasadena but spent a lot of time in Arcadia. Regrettably, Phil got into some trouble in his younger years, was kicked out of Arcadia High School, and was sent to a Mississippi military home. It was a correctional home.

Cooking was huge for Phil because he acknowledged if not for cooking, he was on a direct path to either jail or the grave. 

WHAT WAS PHIL DOING DURING HIS YOUNG ADULTHOOD THAT LED TO HIM GOING TO MISSISSIPPI?

Looking back, Phil believes a lot of his struggles and choices were centered around wanting to fit in and be liked by his peers.

Phil was into drugs and trying to get into cliques and other groups.

WHEN DID PHIL START GETTING INTO BASKETBALL?

Phil remembers playing basketball for his entire life. He started out playing in a local church league and played as young as he could walk. Phil’s father actually coached him and his team.

Phil wasn’t able to play organized basketball in school. He was talented enough to make the teams, but his poor grades would keep him out of sports.

Normally, his basketball playing would take place at the park with his friends.

Phil remembers growing up, his dad would take him to McDonald’s, and then while Phil ate McDonald’s in the car, his father would play pick-up basketball. It was mostly adults, so Phil hardly got to play.

But, as people were leaving and they would have three people and be desperate for a fourth, Phil would jump in and be able to play.

WHERE IS PHIL’S FAVORITE SHOT ON THE COURT?

Phil likes getting to the basket because he enjoys jumping and flying around. However, contrary to many popular NBA stars, Phil prefers the mid-range shot.

DID PHIL ALWAYS ENVISION OPENING HIS OWN RESTAURANT?

Since Phil left Mississippi, he was set on trying his own restaurant, especially after hearing how difficult it was. He loved the challenge.

He always wanted to open a BBQ restaurant because he loves Barbecue, but his goal is to open a breakfast restaurant next.

WHAT OTHER BUSINESS VENTURE HAS PHIL HAD?

One of Phil’s first real chef jobs was at a restaurant on the West Side, and he was given the opportunity by a mentor chef. The food he cooked was poorly received, but since he took constructive criticism well, he was hired.

He ended up being there for about a year. A few friends asked him to help create a menu for a restaurant they wanted to open up.

And Phil did, and shortly after that, they offered him a salary position and a percentage of ownership in the restaurant.

The owner where Phil worked told him he would end up taking it, and initially, Phil said he wouldn’t leave because he was loyal. But he jumped on the opportunity.

He actually did not like the menu he created for them in terms of what he would want to cook. So, to come on as a chef, they had to agree to allow him to change the menu and have opinions on the decor and the marketing, which they were cool with.

He actually trademarked the official hot dog of Los Angeles.

Eventually, the style of the restaurant shifted away from hotdogs to LA street food, which led to disagreements between Phil and the other owners.

With the restaurant losing money, they bought Phil out of his share of the company due to his fear of having to pay money if it went under.

WHAT IS PHIL DOING NOW?

For a long time after the pandemic, Phil spent a lot of his time snowboarding. In his mind, he became a snow bum.

His buddy, Eddie, who does real estate, was helping Phil find a restaurant. He sent Phil an option in the Sierra Madre, and they checked it out.

They calculated the risks and considered the fact that restaurants were starting to open up again post-pandemic, so they decided to go for it. It was already a Japanese fusion restaurant, and the original owners wanted to sell and move to Tennessee. 

WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE OWNING THE RESTAURANT?

Every day there is something different. Phil has extensive chef experience, but he’s never opened his own business before.

All of the tax documents, small business information, and hiring ventures were completely new to Phil.

They have a liquor license, too, and a food truck which opened up a can of worms with insurance. 

WHAT ARE A FEW THINGS ON THE MENU THAT PHIL WOULD RECOMMEND?

Two major dishes that Phil would recommend is the steak fried rice and a unique baked mac and cheese.

 

SGV III

  1. The basketball courts at all the parks around the area (First Avenue Middle School)
  2. San Gabriel Valley in general and the house he grew up in. In East Pasadena.
  3. The hiking trails, Huntington Library, and Arboretum