A nice guy rolls with the punches

by Brian Clarey

The spicy, crunchy tuna roll at Toshi’s Café is as fine a lunch as you can get in this neighborhood. (photo by Brian Clarey)

Toshi Yoshida is the nicest guy in town, a sanguine presence here in the corner of southwest Greensboro known as Adams Farm, which is noteworthy both for its dearth of great lunch choices and the existence of the YES! Weekly offices inside its borders, among other things.

Our staff had been frequenting Yoshida’s coffee shop, Coffee & Roses, since it opened right around the same time the paper began publishing in January 2005. The shop, which true to its name trucked in both fresh coffee and fresh flowers, was a dream of sorts for him after a long career as a sushi chef.

“I like coffee and I like roses,” he explained to a YES! Weekly reporter in one of our earliest issues.

Yoshida, originally from Osaka, Japan, once held the sushi contract for Whole Foods Market in six cities — until the operation was folded into the company. He then worked at Asahi in Greensboro until opening his shop near the Jamestown border on High Point Road. But he got the boot from that location earlier this year, a casualty of the NC department of Transportation’s plan to widen High Point Road.

So Yoshida did what he always does: rolls with the punches, relocating to digs in the Adams Farm Shopping Center where the Integro Deli once purveyed European delicacies.

The place has changed little, with some rearranging of tables and counter space, but the shelving still lines the walls, the German confections and imported pastas replaced by pottery, origami and a water feature. Five tables fill the floor, with the sofas and easy chairs from the coffee shop creating a sitting area near the counter for sipping coffee or waiting for to-go orders.

He’s brought much of the old place into the new: the espresso machine with which he makes every coffee drink to order; the menu of smoothies and breakfast items that evolved by necessity; the Japanese sodas and pastries that you can’t get anywhere else. To these he’s added a list of sandwiches based on turkey, ham, bacon and roast beef, because you can’t have a lunch joint without sandwiches, and a short list of sushi favorites and imaginative original dishes.

The Cajun Delight roll, he says, containing alligator meat, hot sauce and chow chow, was designed by his sushi chef in training Greg Griffin.

“I know he doesn’t sound like a sushi chef,” Yoshida says, “but I teach him.”

Today Yoshida himself is behind the counter wearing the tied headband of a sushi chef, and it is he who assembles my spicy, crunchy tuna roll today.

The roll consists of minced pink tuna in rice and seaweed, not too — or even very — spicy, with a welcome wedge of avocado and strips of cucumber. It’s a fine lunch. Wonderful, actually, more fresh and prepared with greater care than I could get at the neighboring Harris Teeter or fast-food Chinese place that seems to keep changing hands.

I see that Yoshida, though still quick with a smile, is more harried here than at the other place. He says he’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, a major increase in hours from Coffee and Roses, and, perhaps, not quite as remunerative.

But he’s not one to dwell on the vagaries of the restaurant business, choosing instead to smile through the changes life throws his way, a smile he makes for every customer who comes through the door. Because he knows it is customers that will make or break his newest effort.

“This is not a restaurant,” he says. “It’s not a grocery store. This is a café, and we will grow with the community.”

wanna go?

Toshi’s Café 5710 High Point Road Greensboro 336.297.2288. Facebook and Twitter