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Meet Nicholas Campisano and Joshua James of Clever Koi in Central Phoenix

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicholas Campisano and Joshua James.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Nicholas and Joshua. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Josh and myself have been passionate about food and beverage, and hospitality for the bulk of our lives. A Tucson native originally, Nicholas Campisano explored his need for adventure by moving to Southern California. It was there he refined his high expectations of entertainment, quality and service by opening a string of new age lounges along the coast of California. In Arizona, his leadership roles were established at popular locales such as Modern Steak, Culinary Dropout, and the Mondrian in Scottsdale by planning progressive high-profile events that combined elegant food and luxury bar service. This experience shaped him for his role managing Central Phoenix hotspot, The Parlor Pizzeria, where he met partner Joshua James. His vision, which went hand and hand with Joshua’s, was to bring a dining culture that was untapped in the Phoenix food and beverage scene.

This is when the vision of Clever Koi started to come to fruition; a place that holds food, beverage and hospitality all at the same level to work cohesively to impact each and every guest in a positive and progressive way. Campisanos’ strong passion for hospitality is what drives the staff on a daily basis to create a reputable style of service Clever Koi takes pride in. Progressing in the industry and educating himself alongside the staff inspires them and creates an eagerness for constant learning. In 2016 Nick was recognized as Restaurant Manager of the Year at the Foodist Awards.

Hospitality is the heartfelt reception our guests feel from our warm environment as well as positive interactions throughout their entire dining experience. Our employees are the direct connection to the guests through our dishes, our outstanding cocktail program, and our ability to lead them through memorable dining experiences. Moving forward with being a leader in the ever changing restaurant business, Campisanos’ love for taking care of not only his staff, but the community and environment, is a pivotal part of his everyday impact. The words “us”, “we” and “team”, mean so much to the progression of his and James’s company model.

Native to North Central Phoenix, James was compelled by an opportunity to be creative during his tenure with Karl Kopp at AZ/88.­ while mastering the art of the classic cocktail he understood that restaurants were more than just a place to grab a quick bite – they were an opportunity to engage. As bar manager of The Parlor Pizzeria, James had built one of the most innovative beverage programs in Phoenix – a place where food and drink co-exist in unison and harmony.

At Clever Koi, James has created an award winning bar program that has been celebrated both locally and nationally since its conception in 2013. Over the years his passion has shifted to developing solid business strategies and creating meaningful relationships with community leaders. James’ believes it is solely the responsibility of business owners to create and maintain a company which holds the highest standards for its employees, while simultaneously creating a cornerstone for the community. While his mantra is to maintain a strong business model, he treats his employees like family while instilling honorable morals and values with respect for everyone.

As a business model, James hopes to create a more sustainable, environmentally friendly restaurant. Through strides in recycling, water reduction, energy conservation and food waste, James hopes to eliminate the massive footprint left by restaurants. One of his daily goals is finding simple ways to reduce waste in all divisions of the business. Finding new and innovative ways of closing the pay gap within each department also remains at the heart of his quest. He feels strongly that the Hospitality Industry is one of the greatest areas of American innovation and its employees deserve to get paid accordingly.

James’ cocktail recipes and commentary have been featured in local magazines such as Phoenix Magazine, Phoenix New Times, Arizona Foothills, AZ Central, Desert Living and in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Wine Spectator’s Market Watch.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The long and winding road that is the restaurant business is all how you adapt to what lies ahead. Staying determined and passionate is what helps you get back up again and again. The beginning of Clever Koi was so inspiring, all of our hard work and dedication led us to that point. When we opened, and the community came in to see what new and fresh food and beverage ideas hit the dining scene, we were as prepared as we thought that we could be. Asian cuisine is very intricate and detailed, and the culture that goes into every dish no matter what it is, was so fascinating to us. The community was a little taken back by our approach in the kitchen, and we received some heartbreaking reviews not only from the community but food writers as well. Our service wasn’t up to par due to lack of knowledge on our behalf. I remember like it was yesterday when Howard Sofitel came in and ordered a huge amount of food, and even took some to go, the positive feeling we all felt. When the review came out, that feeling went away real quick. On top of the rocky start, getting acclimated to being the figures that are responsible for taking care of every little thing to make that place beat was a different challenge than we had been used to. This is where determination either sets in or gets missed. For us, it set in heavy. We took all the new challenges head on as a team. We stayed humble and filled not only ourselves with much more knowledge, but our staff as well. One of the driving forces was placing our staff above all else. Clever Koi is so much bigger than just Josh and myself, it is everyone involved that make such a positive impact on the community.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Clever Koi story. Tell us more about the business.
Clever Koi is an Asian-inspired kitchen & craft cocktail bar with locations in Central Phoenix and historic downtown Gilbert. Once inside, patrons are warmly greeted by some of the Valley’s most knowledgeable and energetic front of house staff, that are focused and fully geared towards making your experience one of a kind, every time. The mantra of the service staff is seamless hospitality at every turn.

At Clever Koi, guests’ senses are invoked with the sights, sounds and aromas of the open kitchen’s wood-fired grill and roaring woks. From the kitchen; guests can get a front row seat to staff diligently preparing an ever-evolving menu of steamed buns, house made dumplings, progressive noodle dishes & small plates that reflect flavors and techniques from regions such as Thailand, Korea, China, Vietnam, Japan, and Indo-China.

Don’t miss daily happy hour offered at our stylish craft cocktail bar as well as the dining room; featuring an eclectic beer, wine & sake list. The goal of the bar staff is to take you on a journey across a wide spectrum of spirits, sakes, beer & wine that marry perfectly with the cuisine without being overwhelming, insuring that your beverage is just another memorable facet of your experience at Clever Koi.

Our modern approach to Asian food adapts to the ever changing seasons. This is true for our award winning cocktail program as well. This helps out team, who are involved heavily in this menu changing process, stay inspired and confident in their craft. The bulk of our food and beverage menu is made in house on a daily basis. This provides not only the highest quality in product but flavor as well. We want all of our guests to experience a few flavor profiles in each dish they have.

We are known mainly for the unique approach to Asian food. Our cocktail program brings a detailed expression in to what Josh and his crew are so passionate about. We’d have to say that our pig face dumplings, house pork ramen and duck curry are staple dishes. Josh’s attention to detail with the roots of beverage creates cocktails that are one of kind. A few favorites are sour times, enabler and the dead hand. His attention to detail and quality control to our house drinks and classic cocktails is one of kind.

We are most proud of how our staff works so hard to bring such a memorable and unique dining experience to each guest that dines with us. With so many different restaurants popping up we truly believe in to make it most memorable is to treat food and beverage, and hospitality all at the same level. It’s all about your overall experience. From walking in the door to a genuine smile to the flavors of the food and drink. All are the forefront of what we do and what we are passionate about.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Luck favors the prepared. The prepared are the ones that are determined to make a positive impact on the lives they touch, no matter what business they are in. Bad luck and good luck have been a part of the evolution of Clever Koi. Our water heater broke on a day that we were closed and flooded that back half of the restaurant by the time we got there; that’s bad luck. There is nothing that can prepare you for something like that, except for the mops and squeegees that you have hanging in the back prep area, haha. Good luck for us is being at the right place at the right time, that’s a given for anyone that owns a business. Hard work, which we strive for on the daily, hopefully leads towards those good luck situations. Any entrepreneur would say luck is a factor, but hard work gets you the furthest. Opportunity and luck go hand in hand.


  • Happy Hour Daily from 11am-6pm (Discount on food, draft beer, glasses of wine and classic cocktails)
  • It Takes Two (Phoenix – Monday & Tuesday, Gilbert – Tuesday & Wednesday) Choice of any rice or noodle dishes + 4 draft beers $40. Substitute any four classic cocktails or bottle of wine for $50.
  • Check our social media for deals and giveaways
  • Weekend food and drink specials

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Jaryd Neibauer

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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