The former executive sous chef of the Raku restaurant chain has teamed up with his sister to start a sushi restaurant of their own—Kenaki Sushi Counter—at Kentlands Market Square in Gaithersburg.
Ken Ballogdajan, 37, is the executive chef and Aki Ballogdajan, 36, is the general manager of the restaurant, which opened Sept. 18. The owners, who created the eatery’s name by combining their first names, said they are offering what they call a modern take on traditional sushi.
“We hope to bring our family recipes and our take on modern and traditional sushi to the Kentlands neighborhood,” Aki Ballogdajan said Tuesday. “It’s really a labor of love.”
The 1,800-square-foot restaurant at 706 Center Point Way, which shares a corner with the Starbucks on Market Street, is currently open only for lunch. The Ballogdajans said they hope to offer dinner service in a week or two. The restaurant seats up to 50 people inside. Outdoor seating is still in the planning stages.
Aki Ballogdajan said the lunch experience is a little more informal compared to what the owners have planned for dinner. Customers planning to eat at the restaurant order Bento boxes and sushi at the counter and servers deliver the food and drinks to their tables. Lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
For dinner, full service will be available in the dining room. The menu will include a variety of hot and cold small plates of traditional and unique sushi and sashimi dishes. The bar will feature beer, wine, sake and Japanese whiskey. Dinner will be served from 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sunday.
In a couple of months, the pair hope to offer Omakese—a tasting menu consisting of sushi and sashimi courses—at the restaurant’s six-seat sushi counter. Seating will be by reservation only. Two seatings for the tasting menu will be available Monday through Thursday and three on Friday and Saturday.
Ken Ballogdajan interned with reality TV show Top Chef alum Byron Voltaggio at Voltaggio’s Volt in Frederick while he studied at the former L’Academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, where he received a culinary degree in 2010, according to Aki Ballogdajan. Another highlight of Ken Ballogdajan’s career included a stint on the first season of the reality show Iron Chef, when he appeared as the sous chef alongside Chef Roberto Trevino of OOF Restaurant in Puerto Rico.
Aki Ballogdajan worked in software sales for 10 years. The siblings, who live together in Clarksburg, grew up in the restaurant business. Their parents owned two sushi restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area—Café Kyoko in downtown Frederick and Kyoko’s in Cleveland Park in the District.