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Meet Kazusa Jibiki: Elizabeth St. Sweetheart at Lovely Day

Naomi Banks | 29 March, 2024

            Meet Kazusa Jibiki: Elizabeth St. Sweetheart at Lovely Day

In honor of Women’s History Month, we are featuring Kazusa Jibiki, owner of Lovely Day since October 2002. From sole ownership to finding a compatible partner in Dan Sutti, Jibiki's journey reflects dedication and adaptability. Despite setbacks like a fire and the pandemic, she persevered, supported by her community. Jibiki's diverse menu blends Thai and Japanese flavors, creating a warm and welcoming space for patrons. Her pride in overcoming obstacles, alongside her loyal team, makes Lovely Day a cherished destination in New York City.

Her responses have been edited for length and clarity. Check out the short video clip from the interview on Instagram and TikTok by clicking the hyperlinks.

Purchase the only print signed by the owner to support a worthy cause. 100% of the proceeds of the signed print benefit the Brooklyn Community Services’ Transitional Living Community women's shelter.

How does it feel to run Lovely Day with a partner after previously operating it alone?

Jibiki: I was the only owner until 2 years ago. Now, I have a business partner, Dan Sutti. We are very compatible and I’m grateful that we can spend more time taking care of customers and updating the restaurant. We decide things together, so not everything is on me.

COVID happened in March 2020 and then in June 2020, I met Dan on the street. He had a bar that closed due to the pandemic. I told him that I was looking for a partner because, during the pandemic, it was just me and two cooks taking delivery orders. During that time, we changed the system to survive. We started carrying and delivering groceries. I ended up working 24/7. The day after, he said he was interested. We intended to work together for a year to see if we were a match. We have a similar work ethic, he’s a nice person, and he has seven years of experience having a small business. He had the dedication and energy that we needed. I’m really glad we are a team to grow the business

In light of Women's History Month, could you reflect on your experience as a woman restaurateur in New York City?

Jibiki: Because I’m not from here, everything was new – opening a business, hiring people. I had never worked in the restaurant industry in the States. There was a learning process. Every day felt like I had to do so much more. 

Being a woman, I received a lot of support from my neighbors. This is a very Italian neighborhood – not so much now because it’s gentrified, but at the time, there were a lot of Italian-American guys. They protected me. Sometimes I would be harassed. One time I was yelled at, they saw me crying, and they were immediately like, “Where's the guy? We want to talk to him. Are you okay?” 

Lots of people came every day to support me. I don’t know if it’s due to my feminine instinct, but I had to talk to people and workwith employees. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I learned something new every day. Surprisingly, 22 years later, we are still here. I have so much gratitude for all the people who came into my life to make this restaurant grow and last.

Who is a woman that inspires you? 

Jibiki: I saw Martha Stewart recently at a function and I thought – she’s a great, badass, and strong woman who is always evolving. She’s still relevant, just did a Sports Illustrated Cover, and has quite a few companies where she does product design and more. I watched her Masterclass, “Think Like a Boss, Live Like a Legend.” It’s about how she lives her daily life and how to be a boss. I think she is my hero, a great model that I want to follow. She’s living hard every day and not thinking of retiring or slowing down. It reminds me of how I operate. As long as I have balance, I want to keep living freely, trying to do everything, but in a healthy way. 

Your menu is very eclectic, colorful, and fresh. Can you share the inspiration behind this culinary fusion and how it contributes to the restaurant's identity?

Jibiki: When I first started hanging out in this area, there were only four or five restaurants, with Chinatown close by for people to have Asian food. Though it’s more you go, eat, then leave. I was wishing for a place where you could go to eat, but still stay, hang out, and gather. I didn’t think there was a place like that with Asian food. I wanted to create a space like someone’s kitchen for people in this area. 

A lot of people in New York are unofficial, metaphorical orphans. I saw people away from home, looking for places to run into friends and neighbors. Sometimes people feel lonely and need a warm place to talk about the day, gather and have a lovely feeling. The name Lovely Day comes from my wish for people to come in whatever mood they’re in and leave happily. 

Foodwise, I wanted to have noodles. Originally, I wanted to order noodles from different countries, but then I realized that different countries have different ingredients, so it’s not possible. I met a great Thai chef who was the head chef at a beautiful Thai restaurant in SoHo. He brought his people and helped me do the menu. The core food is Thai, but I am Japanese, so I added some Japanese dishes. I wanted people to come every day, so I added some pork chops, steaks, an English breakfast, and more. There’s something reasonably priced for everyone.


How proud are you of yourself?

Jibiki: I’m very proud of myself now. I can say that now after spending all of my savings, getting a bank loan to open this place, paying back the loan in a few years, having the fire upstairs that closed the place for a year in 2008, reopening, having people come back, and then having COVID happen. We made it. I’m also grateful for my new partner, all the customers, and the employees who have been working for 20 years. My kitchen manager has been with me for 21 years (22 if you count the year of the fire). 

Lovely Day is located at 196 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10012 and is currently open on Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. (212) 925-3310.

Click photo for more information on Lovely Day's signed print for BCS.