Pok The Raw Bar owner Brandon Cohanim opens new restaurant Namo in West Village

A 20 seat sushi bar focused on handrolls, three sashimi dishes, nitro tea, beer, sake and wine.

That’s Namo.

Located next door to his first restaurant Pok The Raw Bar in West Village, SMU student Brandon Cohanim recently opened his newest restaurant Namo.

Cohanim knew he wanted to open his second restaurant as soon as the space became available–even though it’s only 645 square feet.

“I had to do something in this spot,” Cohanim said. “It’s such a great space. It’s right next to Pok; it’s easy to manage and operate. I had to come up with a new concept.”

From start to finish, Namo was up and running in less than eight months.

This is Namo–the 20 seat sushi bar that opened in West Village next door to Pok the Raw Bar. This photo is courtesy of Brandon Cohanim. Photo credit: Brandon Cohanim

“I wanted to create a concept around one dish, and after thinking about it for a little while, I thought about the handroll,” Cohanim said. “I’ve always loved handrolls, so what I wanted to do was put all of our time and energy into perfecting one dish.”

This drive to focus on one item goes hand in hand with the restaurant’s name.

“The name of Namo comes from the word “Namaste,” Cohanim said. “But it’s also the Buddhist word for devotion and being devoted to one craft, and that craft for us is the handroll.”

This past summer, Cohanim visited Japan to get to the source of his inspiration for Namo.

“I wanted to see how they do things there,” Cohanim said. “I went to a lot of sushi bars in Tokyo; I went to the Tsukiji market which is where a lot of the world’s fish comes from, and I made relationships. I finally met a lot of people I had been communicating with since I started Pok.”

The sushi bars Cohanim visited in Japan solidified his vision for Namo.

“They’ll usually give you a handroll at the end of the meal, and I think that’s the best part,” Cohanim said. “I always look forward to it because it’s the final touch, the frosting on the cake. It’s so special over there.”

The handrolls at Namo are simplistic, focusing on three ingredients: seaweed, rice, and fresh fish.

“We spent four months with a seaweed company that has one factory in Tokyo and one in California,” Cohanim said. “They roasted a special seaweed just for us that no one else can get. It’s super crunchy, but of course, you have to eat it right away.”

Namo has eight types of fish flown in every day from all over the world, with salmon from New Zealand, toro from Hawaii, and albacore from Japan to name a few.

Juggling two restaurants isn’t easy. However, Cohanim credits his team for making the process less difficult.

“I’m so lucky that I have such amazing people working for me. I’ve had a great staff that has been with me from the beginning,” Cohanim said.

Namo’s assistant manager, Nikola Cvijanovic, started only a year ago as a server at Pok. However, he played a large role in helping Cohanim create Namo.

“I helped from the very beginning. From planning the project, doing numbers, counting sales and how many hours we needed to cover,” Cvijanovic said. “I helped a little with the creative aspect, but I’m more about the business aspect and managing people.”

Cvijanovic is the first to arrive at Namo each morning, making sure that everything is running smoothly in order to open.

“I’m kind of the bridge between Brandon and the team members as well as the bridge between our guests and the management,” Cvijanovic said. “I’m there to listen, I’m there to deliver, and I’m there to solve every single issue.”

Cohanim worked closely with the chef at Pok in curating a new menu for Namo. The chef now oversees both restaurants, focusing on the ingredients’ preparation, quantity, quality and cost.

“I worked on the menu for Namo just as much as he did,” Cohanim said. “I bring a lot of ideas and then we work on them together. Everything from adding a little bit of salt to doing whatever we had to do to perfect things.”

Cohanim admits that working with people can be a challenge.

“I’m really picky about certain things. I want everything done my way,” Cohanim said. “So managing the whole team can be tough.”

Cohanim’s girlfriend, Serena Legere, always knew that he would open another restaurant.

“Brandon has a lot of ideas. He’s all over the place with creative thinking,” Legere said. “He likes developing concepts, and he gets enjoyment out of it.”

Cohanim’s passion, creativity and hard work have helped him successfully pursue his dreams.

“Brandon is one of the most dedicated people I know, and once he decides he’s going to do something, he does it to the fullest extent possible,” Legere said. “That’s why he does so well.”