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, an uncle owned eateries and nightclubs including the 1980s-era jazz club Brother’s Lounge.
LoScalzo also cultivated his own understanding of hospitality. After stops in California, Arizona, and Georgia, he settled in Tampa and honed his skills over the course of 15 years in the bar and restaurant scene—including a stint at Mise en Place.
But hospitality, it turned out, was not his true calling in life. LoScalzo is in his 21st year as a teacher in Hillsborough County, where he’s helping adult students with disabilities learn skills for life after high school.
Still, the draw of the kitchen 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 themed pop-up events as LOKO Cuisine.
“Twelve years ago, that was underground stuff. I was popping up in pet stores after they closed, at vintage shops, at wine bars, at farms—wherever you can think. I’ve cooked everywhere,” says LoScalzo.
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 his 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. A recent French-themed menu featured the “Oh Là Là French Dip” with beef tenderloin, Swiss cheese, and horseradish truffle aioli; a Nicoise salad; and Cannelés from Jamison B. Breadhouse.
Over the years, LoScalzo found a good fit with the area’s craft breweries, and his monthly Eggs and Kegs brunches now travel to various breweries across Tampa Bay. Breweries often have a fair amount of space and typically do not offer a full menu of food. Plus, several have collaborated in menu planning with LoScalzo and brewed a beer specifically to match the offerings. LOKO Cuisine has collaborated on multiple brews with 7venth Sun for events in Dunedin; a Resting Brunch Face Berliner weisse with Hidden Springs Ale Works and Ginger Beard Coffee that featured cocoa nibs, coffee, and hazelnut; and a rice lager from BarrieHaus to pair with the “Cobra Kai”-inspired Eggs and Kegs menu. For a Cinco de Mayo pop-up this year, the 7venth Sun Brewing location in Tampa put together a strawberry-lemonade margarita imperial gose.
It’s a perfect vibe for a Sunday brunch at a brewery. 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. With a name like LOKO, it’s almost guaranteed.