State orders Kappo to install a sneeze guard or face a lawsuit


  • photo by Rob Bartlett

If you've been to East End Market, you've seen Kappo, the tiny (just seven seats) omakase sushi bar tucked away toward the back. We've given them plenty of praise since they opened in 2014 – a glowing review, a feature in BITE, a mention in our five Top Tables of 2014

  • photo by Rob Bartlett
In addition to Jennifer Banagale, Mark Berdin and Lordfer Lalicon's undeniable skills, part of what makes Kappo so special is the atmosphere. But this week an inspector from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation ordered the chef-owners of Kappo to install a sneeze guard, that self-explanatory plastic barrier between the customer's face and the food.

There's obviously an aesthetic issue here – sneeze guards are not cool; they're the kind of thing you see at Golden Corral or Sweet Tomatoes, not a place where you can drop $100 on dinner. (Critics of the DBPR decision have noted that Sushi Pop and some other high-end sushi bars have not been required to install sneeze guards, but that may have something to do with the height of the bar or the distance between customers and ingredients.)

And the face-to-face relationship these chefs create with their guests – chatting, singing – is yet another part of what their customers love, and it would be pretty much eliminated by the plexiglas barrier, making a visit to Kappo more like a prison visit than a hangout. On the other hand, it's hard to argue against sanitary practices. 

A petition has been circulating, asking Mayor Buddy Dyer and Gov. Rick Scott (good luck there) to "save Kappo." The petition makes the point that this is a traditional Japanese style of dining, a cultural touchstone that will be destroyed by the barrier.

Kappo is a style of dining in Japan where the chefs cook, cut and serve the guest “over the counter,” with complete transparency. Dining at Kappo is about more than just eating; Kappo's owners want to provide its guests with an authentic experience true to Japanese culture, which includes ongoing interaction throughout the meal. This personal contact is designed to educate and shed light about both the food they are preparing and the culture from which it originated.

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