When longtime St. Paul restaurant owner Peter Kenefick announced he was closing Dixie's On Grand and replacing it with a five-story apartment complex, patrons were at least comforted with the promise that the building's other eateries — Saji-Ya and Emmett's — would reopen in the new space. Few would have predicted that the Irish pub and the sushi place would share an executive chef. After all, except for getting its start swimming around, there's nothing else that fish and chips and a spicy tuna roll have in common.

Noe Frausto begs to differ. Despite their dramatically different cuisines, Saji-Ya's longtime kitchen boss said he's been able to successfully assume both jobs in the months since the restaurants reopened. Eye On St. Paul recently sat down with the Texas native to learn more about how he pulls it off. This interview was edited for length.

Q: How did a Texas kid end up at a St. Paul sushi restaurant?

A: My wife ... So I was working behind a sushi bar [in Austin, Texas]. And she took a job as a server at the Japanese place I was working at. She was down there for school. She was going to [the University of Texas]. She's from St. Paul. She brought me up here. Her mom and dad had a house on Goodrich.

Q: So how did you become head chef for both restaurants?

A: So, I ran Saji-Ya 13 years before they closed down for the remodeling. Then Peter offered me the position to run Emmett's as well. He liked what I was doing at Saji-Ya and thought I would be a good fit for Emmett's.

Q: What were you doing that stood out?

A: I'd been doing teppanyaki sushi and traditional, pretty much since I was 16. I always worked the sushi bar. So a lot of the old guests remembered me because I was the guy at tables, chopping away. And I've met so many people. And I was there for so long, I saw little kids grow to teenagers. So, when Emmett's came along ... it was easy. I love the company.

Q: What's the learning curve, going from being a sushi and teppanyaki chef to running an Irish pub?

A: That it's a big undertaking. But I just love food, and I understand, you know, ingredients and what it takes to run a good kitchen. You've just got to get in there and eat ... and cook.

Q: Do you still cook?

A: Oh, of course. I work Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays behind the kitchen. And I still jump in at the sushi bar. I'm also a line cook at Emmett's. My menu is the brunch menu, it's created by me.

Q: What's your thing at Emmett's?

A: If you were to come to have brunch at Emmett's, I would have you try my ahi benedict. Picture an English muffin with a perfectly seared ahi tuna from next door, crusted with togarashi pepper, topped with hollandaise and garnished with shredded seaweed, radish sprouts an a little bit of chili.

Q: Sounds like fusion.

A: I took my family on this Hawaiian trip and we were at Maui and they had something similar that caught my eye. I just came back home and created that dish.

Q: How do you win over the diehard Irish pub fans? Or the sushi experts? How do you satisfy very different clientele?

A: I'm lucky to be working at Saji. It has a long history. Over 42 years. It's one of the oldest sushi bars in the Cities. When I came into Saji, my biggest thing I just wanted to keep it as it was. I've worked with so many talented chefs that, you know, it's really easy for me to maintain that quality. Now, going back to the Emmett's side, I'm lucky to also have one of my fellow chefs, Miguel [Salas], know the recipes. And we kind of worked on giving them a nice twist.

Q: What was the hardest thing for you to learn to make on the Emmett's side?

A: I would have to say, even though it came pretty easily, it was the beef stout pie and the chicken pot pie. There's the batter for the fish and chips. I mean, there's a lot of stuff that goes in it, you know? Also the Scotch eggs, with the soft yolk in the middle.

Q: What is the best thing that Saji-Ya makes?

A: Probably sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is very traditional. We use ribeye and we gently sear the ribeye and then we use a cast iron skillet. We assemble the dish with Napa cabbage, clear noodles and loki mushrooms. Then we have this old recipe for a dashi broth, and then we just kind of simmer everything together.

Q: These two restaurants went dark during the construction of Kenton House. How did you get the people to come back?

A: Emmett's and Saji-Ya, they're great restaurants. They've been in the neighborhood for a really long time. But now, we have the efficiencies of one kitchen, one walk-in freezer. And you can order off either menu.