Tsunami News Update: Pau Hana Happy Hour, New Restaurant On The Way
Ed. Note: Tsunami in Cooper Young – with Ben Smith and Colleen Couch-Smith at the helm – is a stalwart and a gem of the Memphis restaurant scene. I’ve always thought of Tsunami as a fancy dinner kind of place but contributor Stacey has some big news: Tsunami is (and has been) open for your casual, happy hour, cocktail-appreciating business, and there’s a new concept coming in the space next door. All photos by Colleen Couch-Smith, used with permission.
Want to sample Ben Smith’s menu for his new restaurant concept? Then keep reading…
Chef Ben and his wife, Colleen Couch-Smith, purchased the building that has housed Tsunami for the last twenty years at the end of 2016. With that came a wave of renovations, upgrades, a new happy hour menu and plans to launch a more casual concept in the south dining room in 2018. (Similar to Sweet Grass & Sweet Grass Next Door.)
Let’s start with the renovations and upgrades.
Colleen, who has played many roles at the restaurant from bookkeeper to general manager, spent the last couple of years working in the construction business with Sponseller & McGary. This gave her the confidence and experience to tackle most of the refresh and structural changes herself.
“We didn’t want anything tremendous or outrageous. The idea was to complement the existing décor and stay true to building. We’ve been in business for twenty years because people are comfortable here and I definitely didn’t want to change that,” she says.
Colleen overhauled the paint scheme, completely tore out the ceiling in the main dining room, addressed air conditioning issues, replaced the track lighting and fans, and redid the bar so that it looks like they are “selling alcohol rather than glassware.” You can see Colleen’s more artistic side with the new handmade wallpaper she created for the bathrooms and as accents in the main dining room. Finally, she reupholstered the bar stools and banquet.
[I feel like I should point out that the badass bar tops, counter tops in the bathrooms, and several of the paper installations were also made by Colleen over the years.]
Now, about that new happy hour menu.
Launched in June, it’s technically called Pau Hana, which is Hawaiian for “quit workin’ and treat yo’ self.” Each week, the menu features two new dishes and a special cocktail. The Pau Hana menu is available at the bar Monday-Friday, from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.
So, what kind of food are we talkin’ about?
“Things that have been rattling around in my head for ages that didn’t feel like the right fit for Tsunami,” explains Ben. Pau Hana has given him an opportunity to go further out on a limb, beyond what he’s been doing, and more towards the food he loves to eat.
Ben says he’s been getting homesick for Hawaii, where he lived from ’91-’94. As a result, Pau Hana has featured items like rice vermicelli bowls with shrimp and spicy coconut sauce, spam musubi, shrimp toast, and tuna poke.
Creating two new dishes each week and getting feedback from customers has been a good sounding board. “It’s basically menu testing for our new concept,” says Ben.
New concept? Tell us more…
Colleen explains, “Pau Hana is bridging the gap between what we are now and what we will be in a few months. It’s highlighting the food Ben will serve in tbe new space.” She envisions seating for small groups, a loft with a larger table, and a four seat sake bar. “Definitely no white tablecloths,” she says.
The new space has a name, but it’s a secret for now. Ben says it will be about the vibe and variety and the fact that it’s spontaneous and seasonal and can change with his whims. “It’s the difference between giving people what they want versus what I want. I need to get back to a place of creativity and challenge people’s palates with more vibrant flavors.”
Ben wants to see tables of people sharing food “like in every other culture in the world.” He wants his customers to taste the full spectrum of flavor at every meal. “Ideally we hit all the points on the palate and people leave without being too full or feeling like they spent too much.”
Sounds good to me!
The happy hour small plates are in the $6 – $8 range and the daily cocktail is $8, plus they offer wines by the glass for $6 and beer for $5.
Tsunami is open for dinner Monday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. They offer the Pau Hana Happy Hour menu from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
928 S. Cooper
Memphis, Tennessee 38104
Stacey Greenberg is a freelance writer who lives in Cooper Young with her two teenaged sons. She’s a contributor to Thrillist.com, Edible Memphis, I Love Memphis, and Memphis Travel. She’s also the author of the award winning blog, Dining with Monkeys (diningwithmonkeys.com). A lifelong Memphian, she loves the fact that she’s never met a stranger here.