July 20, 2018: This article was updated with new comments from Valentina Carrero.
After 15 years serving sushi, teppanyaki and Asian-infused entrees, Iowa City’s Takanami will become a Mexican restaurant, new owner Valentina Carrero announced Wednesday. The rebranded business is set to open Aug. 2 in the same location at 219 Iowa Ave.
“I have enjoyed meeting all the great and loyal customers but I have decided it is time for a change,” Carrero wrote in a post on the Takanami Facebook page July 18. “I will be closing Takanami on July 28th and opening a new Mexican, Taco and Tequila Restaurant. As a young female latina business owner, it has been my dream since I was born in Colombia to open my own Hispanic restaurant and I am excited to showcase the new restaurant to you all.”
Carrero took over Takanami from the Etre Restaurant Group — owners of fellow downtown restaurants Formosa and El Patrón — on May 29, shortly after Carrero graduated from the University of Iowa with a degree in sociology and social work. Carrero had experience managing Takanami, Formosa and El Patrón, but Takanami is the first business the 22-year-old has owned.
Carrero has already made changes to Takanami since taking over, removing the teppan tables from the back room and transforming it into a bar and lounge space serving Japanese drinks and local beers. As of July 13, this space is kept open until bar close, long after the restaurant itself closes at 10 p.m. The new owner also revamped the menu.
“I’m not sure if anyone noticed, but we changed the happy hour, the food menu, the drink menu; the specials are all different and I added some rolls and entrees,” Carrero told Little Village last month.
Carerro said she plans to keep the late-night lounge open in the new restaurant, transforming the sushi bar into a tequila bar. Mexican cocktails, including margaritas, will be served and Spanish-language music played into the wee hours, but no food will be served past 10 p.m.
The announcement of Takanami’s impending shift in cuisine provoked both praise and criticism from commentators on Facebook. Most of the negative comments pointed out the wealth of existing Mexican-style restaurants downtown, including Cactus, Cactus 2, Saloon, El Patrón, El Banditos and the new Iowa City Casa Azul.
“A lot of the restaurants downtown — it’s a little more Americanized, I’d say,” Carrero told Little Village on July 20. “I want to do more traditional entrees that aren’t just Mexican but have influence from South America. I think there are a lot of people down here who want to see that.”
Carrero said she plans to announce the new menu at the same time as the new name — shortly before the business reopens Aug. 2. Molcajete mixto will likely make an appearance, she said, as well as a fish dish, as “there are a lot of seafood lovers that came to Takanami.” Carrero promises to maintain robust happy hour and lunch specials as well. She does not plan to bring in a new chef.
Others on the Takanami Facebook page raised concerns about Carrero’s lack of experience running a restaurant, to which Carrero responded in a second post. “I understand the difficult journey ahead of me,” she wrote, describing her family’s escape from violence and poverty in Bogota, Colombia, and her ability to graduate from UI in four years despite working full time to fund her own education. She also noted that downtown staple Atlas was successfully transformed into Saint Burch Tavern this year by the Craft Concepts Group.
“What you fail to realize is no matter whether I sell tacos, sushi, or burgers, I am already successful. My success is not dictated solely by my net worth; my success is dictated by following my dreams and passions and continuously building a better life for me,” Carrero wrote.
Carerro also implied a change is needed to save Takanami from closing altogether: “as a small business owner, I was forced to make a tough decision. In order to survive, the decision had to be made.”