Sakamai is a natural expression of our experiences of Japan and New York, taking their best culinary traditions to create an enjoyable New York Izakaya.
sakamai means “saké rice.” Our kanji characters translate to “drink and dance.”
Born into a family of sushi chefs in Miyazaki on the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu, Chef Akiyama’s culinary path was paved for him at birth. After attending culinary school in his hometown, he started working at Serina in the renowned Roppongi district of Tokyo. Here at the acclaimed Serina, Akiyama sharpened his basic skills and developed his culinary foundation as well as learned the time-honored art of kaiseki cuisine.
In 1995, Akiyama was invited to New York as executive sous chef to Chef Hitoshi Kagawa at Oikawa Restaurant. Under the mentorship of Chef Kagawa, Akiyama was introduced to the world of Modern Japanese cuisine. Subsequently in 1999, Akiyama moved to Lan Restaurant, a Japanese establishment in the East Village, in his first role as Executive Chef. The job afforded him an opportunity to cultivate and explore his own cooking style and to develop management skills – and as such, Akiyama embraced the challenge of running a kitchen and creating inventive yet budget-conscious dishes.
Two years later, Akiyama was invited to head the kitchen at Forbidden City, tasked with creating a menu suitable for a pan-Asian themed posh lounge. His time here demonstrated his versatility and breadth of skill, as he re-invented his style to inspire dishes geared to a very distinct audience than before. In 2003, Akiyama returned to Lan as Partner/ Executive Chef, where he continued to establish and refine his signature style of cooking. Akiyama developed quite a cult following in New York food crowd while at Lan, and food aficionados have often described his style as Modern Japanese with a French twist.
Akiyama returned to Japan in 2010 to be with his family, and his father’s restaurant in Miyazaki was in dire need of help. During his time there, he was reintroduced to the variety and quality of local Japanese ingredients. He was able to not only share the skills he developed in New York, but he also was able to touch up on and re-master traditional Japanese cooking in his homeland, something he had yearned for during his years in New York City. Akiyama reestablished his roots in and reignited his passion for traditional Japanese cuisine, and armed with this spirit he returned to New York with an even sharper vision for his cooking.
Upon his return to New York, he worked as consulting chef for Dieci in the East Village, and eventually rose to lead the kitchen as Executive Chef. Chef Akiyama is extremely excited to be part of the SakaMai family, and is looking forward to creating innovative dishes that will provide a memorable SakaMai experience.
Becky's first job was in a Japanese restaurant in Utah when she was fourteen years old. Since then, she's gotten a couple of degrees, interned in fields as diverse as sushi preparation, artist biopics, and tattooing, and published work in various New York magazines. Before coming to SakaMai, Becky trained under Sasha Petraske at Milk & Honey and Little Branch, where she honed her skills in classic cocktail preparation for nine+ years. In addition to being part of the opening teams of numerous New York bars and restaurants (both behind the bar as well as in management), Becky had the pleasure of working with the special group at Bohemian, and it was through them that she was introduced to SakaMai. Becky brings to SakaMai the wealth of more than half her life's experience in the industry, and a deep, abiding love of good food and drink.
A child’s dream of becoming a banker to follow in the footsteps of his businessmen-family members was about to get derailed ... for good reason; he heard a train horn signaling the unavoidable and oncoming calling of passion.
A passion for food and beverage wasn’t so outlandish for George, as his business savvy parents and both sets of grandparents were also hardcore foodies. Moving from his hometown of Taipei, Taiwan, between the States and Tokyo as a kid also didn’t hurt George’s chances of crossing paths with his destiny in F&B, as he is equipped with English, Japanese,Taiwanese, and Mandarin languages. The discovery of Larousse Gastronomic (encyclopedia of gastronomy) at age 17 opened up George’s eyes to professional cooking. However, it wasn’t until he earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from Michigan State University and survived an internship at Goldman Sachs,Tokyo, did he realize once and for all, finance was just not for him.
George’s first position out of school was National Sales Representative at D’Artagnan, where his knack for navigating the world of sales in the F&B industry shone. George became very familiar with specialty gourmet foods and when in season, set daily sales records for fresh truffles in New York City. Customers included Per Se, Daniel, Jean Georges, Four Seasons Restaurant, and Ducasse, to name a few. George was the only sales rep without a culinary background at D’Artagnan, but with a deep desire to learn and strong work ethic, he was able to gain the respect and trust of his clients.
After nearly 10 years in the industry, George finds himself at New York Mutual Trading Company, an 85 year old Japanese Food and Beverage importer, where he handles alcohol distribution for the entirety of the East Coast; builds relationships and educates sales representatives; maintains key on- and off-premises accounts on all facets of saké, shochu and Japanese craft beers; and liaises with makers and retailers to highlight products in a variety of markets. George has proudly grown his market by 10x since he joined the company.
George’s ability to teach others about food and beverage is unparalleled. He has successfully completed both of John Gauntner’s saké levels and is a current instructor at the Saké School of America, the Beverage Educator of NY Mutual Trading Company, the Events Director of the Japanese Culinary Center, and an avid gourmand. George loves all things food related.
George sees SakaMai as another step in bringing his career full circle, as he keeps one foot in the distribution ring of the industry and steps the other foot into the realm of retail. Taking the position as beverage director of SakaMai is right for George, right now; his years of experience and proven credibility command respect, while his palpable, contagious enthusiasm and amiable nature make him the exemplification of hospitality.
George sees SakaMai as a place to call his own, to bring successful elements and concepts that he has picked up through the years into fruition, and to do what everyone dreams of doing—pursue a passion.
SakaMai was conceived by childhood friends, Natalie Graham and Tanner Fahl. As Hawaii-born Japanese - Americans, they're happy to present the amazing cuisine they grew up with in an approachable context.