An obsessed home cook who jumped the fence. This is how Chef/Owner Sarah Gavigan describes herself. She is serious about ramen – so much that the dish inspired her to turn her life upside down and completely reinvent herself.
Raised just south of Nashville, TN, and born to a second generation Sicilian and third generation Nashvillian, Gavigan inherited deep culinary roots in her family’s kitchen.
After graduating from Arizona State University with a bachelor of arts in broadcast journalism, Gavigan’s interest in the music and film business took her to Los Angeles. She established herself as an agent representing cinematographers and production designers, and founded her own agency, Tenth House, Inc. in 1997. After a successful run and ready for a new challenge, Gavigan sold the agency in 2001 and then helped trail blaze the developing field of synchronization music licensing through her second entrepreneurial expedition, Ten Music.
During her 17 years in Los Angeles, Gavigan adopted the nickname ‘Otaku’ meaning “the obsessed'”… with Japanese food. She found great comfort in the Japanese neighborhoods she frequented – in particular, the izakaya and yakitori joints of Torrance and the ramen shops on Sawtelle.
In 2010, Gavigan’s family ties beckoned her home to Tennessee, and she settled back in Nashville with her husband Brad and their daughter Augusta. Without a local source for Japanese soul food in Nashville, she set out to make her own – with zero experience in a professional kitchen, Gavigan taught herself the craft of ramen in her home kitchen through trial and error and by watching videos online. She bought bones, started making broth, and quickly felt the urge to share her ramen with friends – and the word spread quickly.
In the summer of 2013, Gavigan launched a ramen pop-up shop, Otaku South. The skills she acquired in nearly two decades in the film production industry served her well in organizing and executing her pop-up restaurant all over Nashville. In less than a year, the pop-up had nine sold-out dinners, sometimes serving over 250 bowls in one sitting. After a year of doing it alone, Gavigan traveled to New York to train with renowned ramen master Shigetoshi Nakamura, master ramen chef, which proved to be an invaluable experience. With new confidence, Gavigan began serving two nights a week at the Nashville Farmer’s Market.
She worked out of an East Nashville commissary kitchen for nearly two years before she and her husband were given the opportunity to take ownership of the space. In May 2014, POP Nashville was born, giving the couple their first chance at running a restaurant, as well as a “permanent pop-up” concept that gave Otaku Ramen a temporary home for the next year. Gavigan saw POP as an opportunity to welcome new chefs, cuisines, cultures, and ideas to Nashville and envisioned a convertible restaurant, pop-up, and event space that would help people tell their stories through food, art and music. Through her guest chef series [City] Meets Nashville and her annual Xtra Large Ramen Festival, Gavigan began bringing world-renowned chefs and ramen masters to cook in Nashville on a regular basis.
Only a few years after she took the plunge into the culinary world, Gavigan broadened Nashville’s culinary landscape once again when she opened Otaku Ramen in December 2015 as the city’s first dedicated ramen shop in the heart of The Gulch neighborhood.
In June 2015, Gavigan embarked on her next culinary endeavor – Little Octopus. Originally housed at POP with Chef Daniel Herget at the helm, Little Octopus is a modern neighborhood restaurant serving flavors from everywhere, ingredients from here, and options for everyone – carnivores, celiacs, vegetarians, and vegans alike. After Little Octopus garnered rave reviews and a loyal fan base in East Nashville, Gavigan decided to make leap to a permanent location, re-opening Little Octopus just a couple blocks from Otaku Ramen in The Gulch. While staying true to its commitment to fresh, clean, and vibrant fare in the new location, Chef Herget’s seasonally driven menu will be centered on Caribbean cuisine and the rich history behind its globally influenced flavors.
When she’s not in the restaurants, Sarah loves discovering new music, spending time with her husband Brad and daughter Augusta, and working on The Koji Shio Project which she started in 2014. Currently, Gavigan is also working on a book about mastering the craft of ramen for the home cook.