“I thought we’d only be closed for a week or two, but after a couple of months went by and hearing about restaurants permanently closing, it started to resonate,” Choi says. “If I was going to reopen again, I knew I would have to change my concept.”
Nestled between a craft-beer bar and Zion church, OMG is arguably one of Orange County’s best sushi spots — offering a succession of 22 meticulously assembled dishes that range from fat-marbled otoro to signature dishes for $150. Choi spent the mandated shutdown redesigning his 10-seat omakase restaurant with plexiglass partitions to create barriers between the sushi bar and guests, as well as separate parties.
Sourcing materials for the buildout wasn’t easy. “I went to multiple Home Depot locations, traveling as far as Riverside,” Choi says. And he still didn’t find everything he needed — he had to place a special order with a manufacturer in New York for the large acrylic piece that covers the bar.
Although many people are still apprehensive about dining at restaurants, the majority of Choi’s diners were eager to reschedule their reservations. “When Orange County announced that restaurants could begin reopening, I started contacting people who had reservations in April and May, and within 30 minutes of making phone calls I was already sold out and fully booked for the month of June,” says Choi. With fish sourced daily and rising market prices, he says takeout wasn’t a viable option prior to reopening — as a result, his almost-three-month closure created a draw despite the economic climate.
For the safety of customers and employees, OMG has implemented operational changes such as temperature checks and sanitization of the bar, the glass dividers, and the chairs between seatings. Staff wear masks, gloves, and, as an extra precaution, plastic face shields while serving. Despite the new procedures, the omakase-only dinner setup still offers an intimate setting for a memorable experience.
It’s because of these precautions that Julia Chan decided to celebrate her 46th birthday with close friends and family at OMG when it reopened on June 2. “It was our first time going out in three months,” says the Irvine resident. “The food was great, we had the restaurant to ourselves, and we felt safe’’ As for dining at other restaurants, Chan says she would not unless the same measures are ensured.
Audrena Liu, who joined Chan for dinner at OMG, still feels nervous about the potential risks. “I’m not ready to dine at other restaurants,” she says. For many, it’s important that restaurants create an environment that’s safe for everyone and that they do not open until they achieve that.
“This is the only thing I can do, and if it doesn’t work, I have no idea what I’m going to do,’’ says Choi, looking at his restaurant through the plexiglass. “I’m doing everything I can to make it comfortable for everyone.”