Michele Ezell Tells the Tale of Tsunami

Tsunami” can be defined as “a force that comes into a community and takes hold of it”. When the concept for the first Tsunami sushi restaurant was being developed in 1999, Michelle Ezell, her husband, Sean, sister, Leah, and cousin, Tara, looked for names that had an Asian influence and “Tsunami” captured it. They had a vision in mind for a powerful force that would take over their community….but in a good way, without the destructive qualities. Their imaginations have led to a successful restaurant enterprise which anchors downtown Lafayette’s restaurant scene.

Michele Simon Ezell, owner of Tsunami, is our guest on this episode of Discover Lafayette. Renowned for its fresh sushi as well as its trendy and inviting atmosphere, Tsunami is the place to go for great food and a wonderful ambiance.

Michele had never worked in a restaurant when she got the envie (desire) to open her own sushi restaurant. She was happily working for a local media company, and she jokingly recounted that she is still on the phone list of employees at Townsquare Media and will someday return after taking a “break” from media to open Tsunami, which was eighteen years ago.

The adventure all began on a trip to Los Angeles to visit her sister, Leah, for New Years’ Eve in 1998. Michele was a big fan of sushi, and would periodically make trips to New Orleans, the nearest city that offered fresh and authentically prepared Japanese sushi and sashimi.  Feeling giddy about the opportunity to enjoy great sushi which was abundantly available in L. A, she was encouraged and convinced by friends and family at that dinner to open her own restaurant in Lafayette. Saki may have played a role in the exuberant conversation!

Sushi was not well known in Louisiana when Michele, her sister, Leah Simon, and Michele’s husband Sean, began research in 1998 that would bring sushi into the mainstream in Lafayette. These were the days of dial-up internet services and the research and development was arduous, to say the least.

Developing Tsunami was a family affair, with cousin, Tara, designing the logo and helping come up with the restaurant’s name. Damian, Michele’s brother, who was working in Miami at a harbor with access to fresh fish, came home and assisted in running the restaurant. Sister, Leah Simon, was the family member credited with developing the visual look and sounds of the restaurant, and in fact, Michele says that Leah is endearing known as the “Minister of Vibe.” Leah eventually moved back home to partner with the Ezells in opening the Baton Rouge location.

Ashley Simon, sister-in-law, was the one family member who did have restaurant experience and had planned to help out for a couple of nights for the soft opening; she brought critical skills in running the kitchen and ended up staying on for a year and a half, eventually serving as general manager. Michele took over the business end of Tsunami, in charge of hiring and the books.

Bankers are not particularly open to loaning money to restauranteurs, especially those who have no restaurant experience. Eventually, Kevin Caswell of Bank of Sunset, Jeff Benton, at Source Capitol, and Jerry Prejean of IberiaBank, assisted Michele in obtaining the needed funding.

Tsunami took off. The three “P’s,” People, Product, and Process, were the focus. Its menu focuses on fresh seafood and diverse dishes with a Japanese and Eastern flare.

The first location of Tsunami opened in downtown Lafayette on Jefferson Street in 2000, with the second location in downtown Baton Rouge overlooking the Mississippi River in 2004, and the New Orleans location opened in the Pan American Center Life Center on Poydras Street in March 2017.

Tsunami is going strong after 20 years in Lafayette  Families and friends have flocked there for special occasions in its first generation of existence, and odds are, will continue to do so for many generations.

This interview is delightful, and you’ll learn how the Michael Doumit, John Breaux, and Father Calais rolls came to be. Michele brings talent and inspirational energy to all she touches. Discover Lafayette is grateful for this interview and to allow listeners to get to know Michele Ezell.

For more information on Tsunami, please visit http://www.servingsushi.com.

This interview was updated on February 26, 2020.