A Culinary Triple Threat – Kaiyo Grill

Jeff Evans made the decision in Antarctica. He and his husband were on a cruise, and the vast, icy waters made them revisit their dream of moving to the Keys from Connecticut. With no time like the present (and not much to do in the middle of the Antarctic Ocean), Jeff applied for the general manager position of a local family-owned restaurant group that includes Kaiyo Grill & Sushi. Soon after their return, he was given the position and headed to much warmer waters.

Jeff and his husband weren’t strangers to the Keys when they arrived more than a year ago. They had been visiting for decades, each time feeling a stronger tug to make it their home. Yet, even with their familiarity, Jeff was unprepared for how truly welcoming the community was.

“The restaurant industry can be extremely competitive,” Jeff explains, “but my fellow Islamorada restaurateurs take the term “friendly competition” to a new level. Kaiyo Grill has been around for decades, and my peers were supportive and excited to see what I could bring to the table.”

Though Jeff was new to Kaiyo Grill, he was not new to the industry. He had worked in restaurants in nearly every position since he was a teenager, from busboy to bartender to manager.

“There’s just something about a great restaurant with great food and great customers that keeps hold of me.” 

This triple threat of ‘greats’ is what Jeff saw in Kaiyo Grill when he applied for the job. The restaurant was well-established with a great menu, and the Keys community is filled with some of the best people he has ever met. Once Jeff took the helm, he realized another triple threat Kaiyo had to offer.

“Kaiyo is known for its sushi, but its seafood and steak are right on par,” Jeff says. “Even more so now with our new chef.”

Shortly after Jeff started in his new role, he heard about a talented kitchen professional and was able to recruit Josh to come on board at Kaiyo as the new Head Chef. Since he has extensive farm-to-table experience in steakhouses, sushi restaurants, and fusion restaurants, it was a perfect fit. Together, Chef Josh and Jeff have expanded and elevated the restaurant’s menu and atmosphere.

“Our goal this past year has been to get people to notice the ‘grill’ just as much as the ‘sushi’ in Kaiyo Grill & Sushi,” Chef Josh says. “We’re not a sushi restaurant that just happens to serve steak and seafood. Our steak and seafood dishes earn their place on the menu and in the restaurant’s name.”

Chef Josh goes on to explain that having a triple-threat menu of steak, seafood, and sushi is a chef’s dream come true. It gives him and his three sushi chefs the flexibility to let their creativity fly, creating unique dishes and flavors that perfectly balance the menu. 

Jeff has helped promote Chef Josh’s incredible steak dishes by starting Ribeye Tuesdays, when guests can enjoy the premium dish at a discount. Tuesdays have since become one of the busiest nights of the week, alongside Half Price Wine Bottles Thursdays. Their sake cocktails are also growing in popularity, especially their Key Lime Sake Cocktail.

Kaiyo is also hosting an exclusive Monday Night Chef’s Table event on July 8th— a 5-course wine-paired tasting menu with limited seating. All-inclusive tickets are available for $145 at KaiyoKeys.com.

With a new general manager, a new head chef, and a few renovations, Kaiyo Grill & Sushi has seen many changes this past year. The business had been going strong for more than twenty years, but the owners had decided it was time for a refresher. 

The local family-owned restaurant group also includes Green Turtle Inn, The Nest BBQ & Sports Bar, and Green Turtle Catering. The family acquired and built these restaurants for one simple reason: they value good food and good experiences and want to share them with their neighbors. 

So, no matter a customer’s cravings and mood on any given night, they can satisfy them at one of the family’s restaurants, whether they want to watch the game at The Nest, cater a special event with Green Turtle Catering, or go on a date night at Kaiyo or Green Turtle Inn. 

Like their customers, the family enjoys seeing and experiencing innovations over the years, and they believed Jeff and Chef Josh could take Kaiyo to the next level. They were right.

Customers have been raving about the positive changes and favorite menu items, like the Rock N Roll sushi roll, grouper piccata, and seafood fettuccine. Ribeye Tuesdays draw the crowds, but Chef Josh’s array of incredible steaks are popular every day of the week.

Local artist Pasta Pantaleo is a regular, and he says, “The variety of cuisine at Kaiyo is fabulous. From steaks to seafood, it’s top-notch, and the vibe of the restaurant is something special.”

Allan and Michelle Pope say, “During our recent visit, we had the pleasure of enjoying the grouper piccata and two rolls of sushi. The grouper piccata was cooked to perfection, with the perfect balance of flavors, while the sushi rolls were fresh and expertly crafted. Hilary’s expertise and warm hospitality elevated the entire dining experience, making our evening truly exceptional.”

Though Kaiyo Grill & Sushi has a premium menu, the food isn’t served in a stuffy steakhouse setting. True to the Keys atmosphere, the restaurant is a classic “Conch House” dwelling that was built by Ed Albury for his family after the 1935 Labor Day storm.

In 1968, Viola Moody Howe, a long-time resident of Islamorada, purchased the home and cultivated a unique garden. She would toss miscellaneous seeds into the garden and wait to see what sprouted. Today, you can find a plaque on the property that reads, “Viola’s Memorial ‘Mystery’ Garden, Viola Moody Howe, 1913-1980.”

This “variety vibe” apparently took root in more than Viola’s garden, as it lives on today in Kaiyo’s menu. Though Kaiyo means “Child of the Sea” in Japanese, its steak menu keeps one foot firmly on the ground.

Jeff, Josh, and their spouses have also adapted to keeping one foot in the water and one on the ground. In true Keys fashion, they spend much of their free time boating, fishing, and generally spending time out on the water. While working, they experience just as much fulfillment.

“I became a chef because I love making people happy and seeing them making memories with what I create,” Chef Josh says. “This feeling has only grown since I’ve been a chef in the Keys because the sense of community is stronger than anywhere else I’ve been.”

Chef Josh, Jeff, and the owners hope this sense of community carries through Kaiyo Grill & Sushi. They pride themselves on providing excellent service, phenomenal food, and an overall enjoyable experience. As a result, their reputation as a culinary triple threat continues to grow.

Kaiyo Grill & Sushi is located at mile marker 81.7 off Islamorada’s famed Old Highway. To glimpse Chef Josh’s stunning dishes and stay up-to-date on specials and events, follow @kaiyogrillandsushi on Instagram.

-Jerrica Mah is a writer, army wife, and freelance book editor, who loves to travel with her family.

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