How to Open a Sushi Restaurant

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You’ve got to grab the bull by the horns when a trend catches on, particularly when that trend is food. Sushi restaurants are beginning to rival ethnic eateries like pizzerias and Chinese restaurants, and there’s no sign the national taste for spring rolls, sashimi and other Japanese delicacies is abating. Whether you plan to pioneer a sushi-mobile, sell drive-through fast sushi or you’ll oversee a sit-down restaurant, plan properly, put in some sweat equity, and you’ll be slicing and dicing cucumbers before you know it.

  • Obtain funding to start your sushi restaurant. You’ll need enough cash to cover equipment, furnishings, liability insurance, liquor and food service licenses plus startup provisions. If you have an existing relationship with a lending institution, turn to them first, but don’t walk in the door without a solid business plan that shows investors why a sushi restaurant will thrive in your area. If your credit is excellent and your plan is viable, getting funding shouldn't be difficult.

  • Find the right venue. Unlike American restaurants, sushi emporiums are a mix of food and entertainment. Diners love to watch their sushi dishes being prepared, so you’ll need a facility that allows for this type of interior design. Make it a point to tour as many sushi establishments as time allows to assess layout, decor, furniture and the other essentials that turn a nondescript space into a slice of Japan. While you’re touring competitors, check out their menus to see what’s being served and how the sushi dishes are priced.

  • Hire a great chef if you’re not trained in the art of sushi preparation. Look especially for knife-wielding masters trained in Tokyo, Osaka, Chiba and Yokohama, cities considered Japan’s major dining Meccas. Alternately, resumes that include time spent working for chains like Origami, Benihana and Ichiban Japanese Steak Houses deserve extra attention. Snap up candidates trained at sushi schools in Japan or the Asian Culinary Arts Institute in the United States.

  • Create a dynamic menu. Take into account contemporary and established food choices in Japanese cuisine plus American adaptations of these recipes so you cover all eating bases. California rolls and spicy tuna rolls are popular across the country, but if you develop specialties that aren’t as familiar to diners, you’ll need to build a clientele and introduce them to new tastes like crunchy vegetable futomaki, maguro and makizushi.

  • Put together a marketing plan that gets out the word on your sushi restaurant well in advance of opening your doors. Include in the plan a variety of public relations promotions, targeted advertising strategies and use the Internet to your advantage. A website that’s inviting can be a great marketing tool, but if it isn’t salted with keywords picked up by search engines, you’ll be at the mercy of competitors who know that keywords can mean the difference between a sushi restaurant with a long wait time and one that’s just holding its own.

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