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"Toyko (Tōkyō)" Petite... The Underground Noodle Bar and Tea Lounge... in my Basement.

See how Saint Lazare turned an old cellar into a private restaurant and lounge in Saint Lazare's Oasis House studio..

Toyko (Tōkyō) Petite - A noodle bar, Tea lounge, and Listening Room

This past Halloween, I attended an awesome Halloween party at a close friend's new home. They had just purchased a beautiful family home and threw a stellar Halloween party that doubled as an official house-warming. The place was beautiful, but the interactions at the party with the people and place were even better. I had such a great time and was inspired by the space so much that it made me access my current space and how I could maximize it in an effort to replicate the communicative atmosphere and vibe.

Oasis House, Saint Lazare's current studio, is a unique location on the Westside of Atlanta. This 1930s ranch style cottage, is quaint, but has a lot of character. At approximately 900 square feet, it's not the largest space, but features numerous nooks, intimate spaces, pre-war architecture and other creative spaces that could add to the overall experience when meeting and conversing with associates and friends.

There was an old cellar below, half-finished, that hadn't been used in many years. It was reserved as storage space, and over the years, held a wide array of items, from old furniture to a pallet of flood light bulbs! There was originally a bar in the cellar, but was in disrepair along with other components of the space.

After attending such a great party, I set out to utilize and maximize the current space and elements within. I personally wanted to finished within 8 weeks (by New Year's) and stay within a relatively conservative budget. This project was meant to optimize the overall space of the studio, but also serve as a "labor of love' project, where the details, design and every other aspect of the project was managed and carried out by myself.

Initial assessments of the cellar was overwhelming. The space was extremely dirty, full of critters, dust and junk. There were openings throughout the cellar that allowed for any and every vermin imaginable. Not to mention, a large amount of personal items, artwork and precious belongings needed to be moved or thrown away as well. I had created a lot of works over the years (some since childhood) in a multitude of mediums and styles. Along with personal mementos and keepsakes from loved ones, I found myself torn, frustrated, anxious and scared to let go of these things. This may have been the hardest part of the project...throwing away keepsakes and other items to make room for new experiences, opportunities and more importantly friends.

Although difficult, the main purpose of this space was to bring friends and clients alike together and in order to do so, some things would have to be given or thrown away. I wanted to build a creative space that highlights my abilities and interest, while also inspiring others to create new, interesting and out of the box concepts, products and goals. Once the space was fully cleaned out, the planning of the interior design commenced, with three key components; communicating, listening, and experiencing. Keeping this in mind, I wanted to ensure that the space and everything within aligned with these concepts to create an energizing, creative inspiring place where people can discuss ideas, learn about new things and experience a different way of interacting with others. As a result, a few themes emerged, all centering around the connection of people and friends in a safe, creative and inspiring space.

After a few days of research, I settled on the design theme, Japanese street Cuisine. During the quarantine period of 2020-2022, I started working from my studio full time. As a result, I found myself inside and alone for extended periods of time. As a result I began watching YouTube videos of people walking around cities around the world. No conversation, no purpose, simply a walk around the city. While watching these videos, I stumbled upon a video covering a walk in Shibuya, Tokyo. After seeing similar colors, shapes, and architectural styles, I realized I could create the same atmosphere and vibe in the cellar below.

It was important to create an authentic look and feel, while also keeping in mind, social and cultural sensitivity and acknowledgment. I wanted the space to transport guest to a Shibuya back Alley, but wanted to pay homage to the actual location and my personal culture and style as well. Lots of items were imported, research about Feng Shui and other eastern design languages was comprised, Japanese architecture books were purchased, and culinary and bar best practices were implemented, to create a truly authentic space that functions as well as it looks.

Natural materials, up cycled resources and hand-made furniture and decor make up the majority of upgrades done to the space. Natural deterrents such as cedar wood was used as accents on the walls to add to the Japanese back-alley feel, while also acting as a natural bug deterrent and odor neutralizer. Wooden and metal furniture to add soft compliments there brick and concrete, but also add warmth and withstand the non-insulated, semi exposed area.

The walls and ceiling were painted and repainted to freshen up the place as well as bar, wall, and supporting structures repairs and renovations to ensure comfort and safety. A large vinyl collection, which was gifted to the space, as serves as one of the main focal points and conversation pieces. Gifted by a neighbor, who received them from a retired cruise ship DJ couple, features classic records, tapes and more from the 1960s to 1990s in good condition.

To create a true to life restaurant and bar experience, I utilized my past experiences in the restaurant industry as a sous chef, consultant and bartender to guide the planning and design. I also reached out to professional bartenders, consultants as well as local and Japanese bar owners, for advice on the best way to structure the space and the resources within. I even took courses on mixology as well as traditional Japanese tea preparation and serving to gain a better understanding of the processes, traditions and spacial requirements/needs.

Toyko (Tōkyō) Petite Noodle Bar Section

A custom menu was created that features small plates, instant and from-scratch noodle dishes as well as sweets and desserts. Local Japanese restaurants have also brokered exclusive UberEats® deal, which allows patrons of the noodle bar and tea lounge to order authentic Japanese cuisines at a discounted price (10% off*). A full bar, features house-made syrups and mixers as well as imported fruits and flavorings, all inspired by traditional Japanese recipes with a Southeastern twist. Currently there are plans to add house-made infused sodas and cooking oils to the ever-growing seasonal and late-night menu.

Every aspect of this build was researched, planned and implemented in-house. From the initial layout, logo, interior design, to furniture, repairs and build were done within Saint Lazare's Oasis House. This project was a combination of technology coupled with traditional methods and elbow grease.

Special care and attention was set to making this experience as true as possible. Logos, branding and other marketing resources were all created with authenticity in mind. The logo is inspired by traditional Japanese hanko stamps and is a play on the small size of the space as well as a French Bistro. Coasters, to go packaging and paper media has been created for the space to add to the experience of the space. The spelling of Tokyo has been changed to highlight the word "Toy" as another ode to the small size of the space and play-like demeanor of the space, but pronunciation is meant to be like the traditional city name.

Toyko (Tōkyō) Petite Proposed Logo

This project blew by and was finished in just under 6 weeks. Currently the space is awaiting a vintage record and tape player and neon sign. A custom sign is being built to resemble the logo, Toyko Petite. Overall this was an amazing experience. Although this was extremely laborious, management-wise and physically demanding, it was all worth while. This project has allowed Saint Lazare to reach beyond the standard projects and concepts to create a tangible experience, which goes beyond traditional product design and web development. This space was ultimately a challenge to create a room that magnifies relationships. The small size and intimate decor adds to the concept of communication, listening and experiencing without distraction or expectation. As a result of Toyko Petite's success, additional plans are currently in the works to add a bathroom and expand outside to include an outdoor bar, detached Art exposition area (personal museum for collected works) and landscaping throughout.

Countless hours, sleepless nights and self-doubt were present throughout the process. These factors have almost become second nature when taking on endeavors such as these, but in the end, all of the stress and fear associated with this project were valuable lessons about myself, design and planning processes, but most importantly... relationships with friends, family and loved ones.

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