Jacknife aims to be a ‘fast, convenient and healthy’ option

Tanya Zhykharevich and Jack Yip have opened a second restaurant in Madison that's focused on a younger generation.
Jacknife's storefront on East Washington Ave.
Photo by Nathan Denzin
Jacknife opened last Monday to a warm reception.

If you had told Tanya Zhykharevich two years ago that she would be opening a new restaurant in March of 2022, she wouldn’t have believed you.

She and her business partner Jack Yip were put into “survival mode” when the pandemic hit, desperately trying to adapt their first restaurant, RED, to meet the needs of people who didn’t want to dine in. They settled on a curbside pick-up option for their sushi and Japanese fare menu at the West Washington Avenue restaurant, and that has remained popular for the past two years. Throughout the ebb and flow of pandemic restrictions, Zhykharevich says she began to realize pick-up orders were here to stay.

“We have a really strong takeout business at RED, but that’s never been our business model,” Zhykharevich says.

She says RED has become more of a destination restaurant — the elegant dining room and dish presentation help make it a memorable meal  — but that experience was lost with quick pick-up orders customers wanted. The idea for Jacknife was born out of that realization. Zhykharevich says younger generations are looking for healthy meal options that are just as convenient as getting a burger from a place like McDonalds.

“Jacknife is a younger version of RED, it’s [for] a new generation of fast casual [diners] that have more energy and long-term goals,” Zhykarevich says. “[A Jackknife] is a tool in your pocket, ready to go and help you. It’s fast and it’s convenient, same as Jacknife the restaurant.”

Jacknife, which opened last Monday on East Washington Ave., aims to bring that convenience to the customer while still offering healthy and tasty food like RED. Jacknife offers three ways to order — at the counter, on the website or at kiosks near the front door. Customers can eat in store, pick up their food from a designated food locker to enjoy at home, or pick up from a curbside drive-thru system.

“It just goes back to efficiency, we wanted to provide a way for all our guests to order and pick up food in a way that makes them most comfortable,” Zhykharevich says. “So it goes back to how to feed into people’s lives and schedules the best we can.”

(left) a sign for Jacknife's drive-thru. (right) tablets and food lockers just inside the front door.

Jacknife has three ways to order: at the counter, at a kiosk near the front door or online. (Photo by Nathan Denzin)

Healthy Eats
The menu at Jacknife is built around three main sections: homemade dumplings, sushi rolls and bowls. Zhykharevich says the Pear Pressure roll — a roll with salmon, pear, hemp hearts and an orange miso glaze — has been a fan favorite through the first days, with the steamed pork dumpling close behind.

You’ll only find five types of fish on the menu; the owners say they want customers to be able to choose their meal without too much stress.

“The concept for Jacknife originated from what we know, which is sushi, and we definitely wanted to emphasize that part,” Zhykharevich says.

She says that while sushi is probably still the main draw on the menu, Jacknife aims to have more options to those who might not like raw fish. Along with the dumplings, Jacknife offers a variety of bowls, where customers have the option to choose their base and protein.

“As much as I love sushi — and I really love sushi — I’m in love with our bowls,” Zhykharevich says. “They are just so fulfilling. Plus you aren’t supposed to eat sushi everyday, so it’s good to mix it up.”

Jacknife also has a kids menu that includes buttered noodles and chicken teriyaki bites. 

Community Response
Through the first week, Zhykharevich says she couldn’t have asked for a better response from the community.

“It’s been so awesome to see how welcomed we were by people,” she says. “But I think we’re only at the beginning of our journey, so hopefully this love will continue to grow and bring us more guests.”

She says her and Yip’s task as owners is to listen to feedback and respond in the right way. Feedback through the first couple weeks have already given the pair a few ideas on how to tweak the menu.

However, Zhykharevich stressed that they aren’t trying to get ahead of themselves.

“I’m not one of those people who has a one-year plan, or a five-year plan,” she says. “Our focus is to make this restaurant welcoming to the community, we just want to take it one day at a time.”Footer that says Subscribe with covers of Madison Magazine