John LoScalzo inherited the spirit of hospitality. His father operated the New Orleans landmark Elmwood Plantation, hosting myriad celebrities, including entertainers such as Dean Martin, athletes like Jesse Owens, and the astronaut Buzz Aldrin. LoScalzo’s grandmother passed down her love of Sicilian culture, and his mother introduced him to the comforts of Southern cooking. And in Tampa, his uncle owned eateries and nightclubs, including the 1980s-era jazz club Brother’s Lounge. LoScalzo also cultivated his understanding of hospitality after stops in California, Arizona, and Georgia; he settled in Tampa and honed his skills over 15 years in the bar and restaurant scene, including a stint at Mise en Place Bistro.
But hospitality, it turned out, was not his true calling in life. LoScalzo has taught for Hillsborough County Schools for over twenty-two years, helping adult students with disabilities learn skills for life after high school. Still, the kitchen draw was too strong for LoScalzo to completely give up the hospitality industry. He needed a hobby, though not a career. With his responsibilities to his students, he felt a restaurant or food truck would be too much of a time commitment. So, he began catering pop-up events as LOKO Cuisine.
The name LOKO comes from an amalgamation of LoScalzo’s Italian last name and the Japanese surname of his wife, Stephanie Kojima. He says his food draws from the entirety of his culinary career and life experience, creating meals based on his New Orleans birthplace, his California sojourn, his French training, the culture of Ybor City and West Tampa neighborhoods, and much more.
Michael Raines | Contributing Writer for Edible Tampa Bay
LOKO Cuisine is best known for its popular monthly themed brunch, Eggs & Kegs, which travels to various breweries across Tampa Bay. Over the years, LoScalzo found an excellent fit with local craft breweries and has been dishing out food and good times since 2009. He’s also collaborated with several breweries to design label art and create culinary-inspired beers. Food and beer go hand in hand, according to LoScalzo, who promises that at his events, you’ll experience the fun side of food and drink pairings.
Picture | Left: Sam Green, LOKO Crew member | Center: John LoScalzo, Owner & Chef | Right: Marqui Hill, LOKO Crew member