Sushi wasn’t always Emily Davis’ forte. One summer about six years ago, Davis was visiting her aunt and cousin in California. When they arrived in Pasadena, her aunt wanted to take them out to eat and suggested sushi. At that point, Davis had never tried Japanese food, but she discovered she loved it. Now this former sushi virgin is expanding the culinary horizons of family, friends and customers as a server at Uchiko.
“It’s fun to make other people step out of their comfort zone,” Davis said, noting that she used to eat only chicken nuggets as a kid growing up in the small town of Sealy, TX. “Now my sister sees me and she can’t believe how open I am.”
This 2006 Texas Tech graduate, who studied hospitality management, lived in Dallas and worked as a manager at Pappadeaux for two years before she moved to Austin a year ago with her then-girlfriend. She also worked at a burger and beer joint in Dallas called Jack’s. Davis parlayed her initial industry experience into a position working with the much-revered.
After landing a job at Imperia and working there for ten months, Davis heard about the upcoming opening of Uchiko, Tyson Cole’s new concept and sister-space of Uchi. After going through a rigorous orientation process, she started working there, describing the experience as challenging, fun and eye-opening.
“They are so understanding of different personality types and service methods–and they embrace that,” Davis said, adding that every time a dish is modified, the servers get to taste it again. “If you’re in my section, I’m gonna be pretty laid-back. I want you to enjoy yourselves and have fun.”
Uchiko has a smaller, private dining room in the back that can comfortably hold up to 24 people and that has doors that open up to the kitchen’s prep area. “At some point, they’ll have an open kitchen where the chef makes things and passes the dishes through,” Davis said.
Over the course of our conversation, Davis was relaxed and admitted to being a goofball. She and her former girlfriend were forced to leave their first place due in Austin because of a mold problem. The two later broke up, and now, four moves later, Davis and her two dogs are thrilled to finally be settled in. she recalled all of this turmoil with a smile, knowing that she’s come through it and landed at a great place.
Her shift begins at 2:45 p.m. and, depending on the night, doesn’t end until 11 p.m. or midnight. The full experience at the restaurant is generally at least an hour-long process. Davis has four tables in her section, and she works four to five shifts per week. “of all the places I’ve worked, this has been the most fun and engaging everyday. They challenge me to learn something every day, about the wine list, about sake, about everything.”
Other than becoming a sushi expert, Davis would like to give back by getting involved with a local non- profit. In the summer of 2006, she lived in Washington D.C. and volunteered at D.C. Central Kitchen–an organization that works in food recovery to address the problem of hunger among homeless and/or unemployed people. Each day, the group picks up the leftover food from the many citywide events and turns it into lunch for needy residents that day. The kitchen is run by volunteers who are in training for food handling certification and upon graduation, volunteers often end up working in the kitchen. “It’s really self-sufficient and they make quality meals out of it, too,” Davis said. “It was great to see the progress that people made and seeing how proud they were of themselves.”
Although Davis grew up in a town of about 5,000 people, where she and her friends “made their own fun,” she had no trouble being herself, embracing her goofy side or coming out to her family and friends. “I couldn’t have had a better response from the people I care about most,” she said. “My mom has a great friend of hers who’s a lesbian and they play golf together.”
Coming to a city of Austin’s size has opened doors for Davis in ways that would not have been possible in Sealy. Davis doesn’t feel any stigma related to being gay, but her own personal struggle has been reconciling her religious faith with her sexuality. Raised Presbyterian as a child, she was at war with herself over it for many years; even though it took an emotional toll on her, she’s come through it much stronger. “The thing that I’ve come to know now is that [my sexuality] is not a part that I can cut out. I honestly believe that God created that in me, regardless of what the Bible says. I feel so much more comfortable in my own skin now.”
Even though Davis ’ previous hospitality experience was in more casual environments, Uchiko’s decision to hire her has paid off. The fun-loving personality and self-confidence give her a solid foundation upon which to build a career. The next time you’re in Uchiko, Davis just might be your server–it’ll be a memorable experience.