As we wrap up all things food, fun and fabulous at our SUSHISAMBA West Village location after 17 years, SUSHISAMBA managing partners Danielle Billera (DB), Shimon Bokovza (SB) and Matt Johnson (MJ) who have been there since day one and shared a few of their favorite memories from the Barrow and 7th Avenue location.
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What are some of your fondest memories from SUSHISAMBA West Village?

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SB: Before we opened, we had friends and family come down and help paint the Mondrian-inspired windows of our façade-yellow, orange, green.  You could tell they were handmade – you could see the brushstrokes but it turned out beautifully and very authentic. So those windows were always very personal to me.
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MJThe day we opened, my brother Bobby and I pulled down all the wood that boarded up the front of the restaurant while we were renovating…behind them were the windows that friends and family had just hand painted. It was a great day.  SUSHISAMBA West Village was a meeting place, not just an eating place.  I’ll always remember the many many good times. People met their husbands, wives started families…all from meeting there…it was an incredibly social restaurant.
During 9/11…the community came out and supported us during a very difficult time, and we were able to stay open which was rare-so many other downtown restaurants and businesses closed. We could see the giant American flag on one of the buildings down there after the towers fell and it gave us all hope.
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DB:  The staff had a baby shower for me here.  My kids ate their first shishito peppers there.  Over 17 years, we have had so many events with family and friends I can’t imagine life without it! I know this is true for many of our customers as well.  Many couples met here, went on first dates here…I know there are many “samba babies” out there right now as a result!
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Who are some of the most memorable faces that visited/worked at the location?

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MJ: Laura Bush and her daughters Barbara and Jenna had lunch with us. I met them and they were lovely – it was the girls’ favorite restaurant in New York I think.  Chelsea Clinton also showed up once…she was supposed to go to our other location on Park but mistakenly came to the Village. The White House called me to thank me for helping her and being gracious when the press came knocking for any salacious type “scoop” – which didn’t exist. She was great.  Maybe SUSHISAMBA is the only thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on!
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DB: I’m not one to get star-struck, but knowing Mick Jagger dined with us was pretty incredible.  Of equal importance are people on our staff who have been with us for years – some of them 15+ years. Their loyalty makes them as “memorable” to me as any celebrity who has visited us.
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SBJust watching all these incredible fabric of people coming in. All those people, the future of the City and the United States. Incredible people that made the restaurant feel good all the time. It was just “wow.”
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What do you want people to remember about SUSHISAMBA West Village?

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MJ:  The rooftop experience. It was the place to be. On Thursday night, every New Yorker would vie to be out on our 2nd floor balcony. The corner table was a particularly hot spot – it was always fun to see who was sitting there. ———
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DB: I’ll always remember good times spent with friends and family. That’s what dining means to me and what I hope we’ve delivered to the thousands of people who have dined with us over the years.
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What did West Village mean for the bigger SUSHISAMBA brand?

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SBThe West Village location basically catapulted the brand to a national and even global audience. We were one of the first locations that Sex and the City filmed at.
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What did you mean by “This is not goodbye New York, this is see you again soon.”

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MJSUSHISAMBA was born in NY. 89 seats, 5 bar stools – we used to feed people waiting on a bench at our first location (SUSHISAMBA Park) on 20th street.  NY is our roots and always will be.
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SBSUSHISAMBA was created in New York City, and we’ll always be in New York City – if not tomorrow, then the day after tomorrow.  Look for us in our next location.———