Jo An Japanese: Who Would Have Guessed Kentucky

My company is headquartered in the Midwest, an area where people favor land-based animals as their meat of choice… which makes sense when you can’t get fresh seafood since there’s no access to water. Unfortunately, that becomes an issue for people like me who love sushi. Good news is, the best sushi spots are quickly noticed and then circulated around.

And that is how I discovered Jo An. If my co-workers never told me about it, I don’t think I would have ever ventured into an office park expecting to find a sushi restaurant in one of those bland, brown buildings. The location is so hidden that I had to circle back a couple of times just to notice that there is a little placard sitting on the side of the road providing a much-needed arrow pointing towards the restaurant. The story goes, Jo An was established because of the Japanese Toyota execs who were fed up with eating American food whenever they were visiting the nearby Toyota plant. 

I came really early because I had an evening flight to catch (it’s located an exit away from the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport), and I was alone in the restaurant, seated at the sushi bar. I was a bit skeptical at first when I was watching the sushi chef prepare my nigiri with plastic gloves, but as I uttered “Itadakimasu” out of respect, his ears perked up, and he had a huge smile on his face. “I have not heard that phrase in a long time!” he responded, and he instantly asked me, “Are you from around here?” It made me laugh. It was clear that this cute old Japanese man had been out of his cultural element for way too long.

Considering fish has to be shipped from either the West or East Coast, the fish was surprisingly fresh for Midwest standards! I had extremely low expectations, but the sushi was much better than anything I have had in some cities (i.e. Charlotte, NC). I could tell the fish had been quality cuts, but just not as fresh as it could have been if it were anywhere else besides the middle of the country. The hamachi and saba were pretty good, but the uni fell short - you could taste that it had been sitting out for a while (maybe even a day old…). Overall, though, it is definitely a find and a place that I would highly recommend for sushi if you’re out in the Midwest.

As I left the restaurant, I felt a little sad for the Japanese restaurant employees who do not get a chance to interact with their culture as much in Kentucky. However, I bet those Toyota execs are paying them good money to stay there. And as long as they are there, I will make sure to pay them a visit with the few phrases of Japanese I know… so they know that there are sushi-loving customers out there who appreciate their work and tenure.