The front of the restaurant is empty, but the kitchen is alive with activity as the staff prepares for another busy night. Blending with the whirring of dishwashers and chopping of knives, country music drifts out of an old Japanese jukebox. The Japanese machine mixed with American culture is representative of the entire establishment. Busily taking stock of the night’s ingredients, Quinn Brown emerges from the walk-in freezer clad in a plaid button-up and dark baseball cap.
Brown, 27, is the owner and manager of Izakaya Meiji Company, a bar and restaurant modeled after the popular, casual, after-work taverns of Japan. Returning to his hometown of Eugene after living in New York City and New Orleans, he noticed a need in the local dining scene.
“I was frustrated with Eugene’s lack of late night dinner places,” says Brown. “You can sell [customers] lunch, but you can sell them dinner too.”
Having held almost every position the restaurant business had to offer, Brown came home to Eugene to pursue a career in wildland firefighting before opening a restaurant of his own in summer of 2010. Experienced in the workings of a restaurant, he can take on any job required, including fixing the refrigeration and stoves if need be. Brown is quick, however, to attribute the restaurants’ success, in part, to his staff.
“Our kitchen manager, Allen Youngren, comes in and sets the place up. He gets it ready for everyone.”
Though his responsibilities include cleaning, and inventory as much as it does the kitchen, Brown’s eyes light up when discussing the possibilities of working with local food sources and in-house infused liquors.
“This place breeds a do-it-yourself atmosphere. Our kitchen managers use everything they can. If we can do something cool with [locally-grown food], why not?”
The bar itself is a testament to Brown’s passion. With over hundreds of types of whiskey alone, it is intensely curated and meticulously presented, featuring products from both craft and international distilleries. His standard reading fare includes “The Whiskey Advocate” as well as books on the distilling process.
“I’m not obsessed with alcohol, but I’m always reading about it and trying to learn about how things are produced. I follow trends, follow distilleries to see what they’ve released.”
In stark contrast to many Eugene bars and restaurants, Izakaya’s decor is spartan. A beautiful wooden bar greeting guests upon entry and behind it, bottles of whiskey are illuminated by a string of lights. Throughout the restaurant, o televisions or distractions are to be found.
“We don’t put in televisions because I want you here talking to your girlfriend or your wife or boyfriend or whoever. You can watch television at home,” says Brown.
Though Brown is the manager, the aesthetic of the restaurant belongs to his wife and co-owner, Ayumi Kamata. The two met while working at a New York City restaurant.
“Everywhere I’ve worked has been late night stuff, open till four in the morning. [My wife and I] are just used to that kind of place. I wouldn’t know anything about running a breakfast place.”