Expanding the Conveyor Belt
Chef Jeff Osaka on the growth of Sushi-Rama
Growing a business is an exciting experience – take it from someone who's in the thick of it. From searching for new markets and designing a space with your brand's unique flair, to strategizing new dishes and developing menus, it’s a world of new endeavors. However, growing a restaurant from a single location to a full fleet can be a daunting task. Having a plan and knowing how to execute expansion is the key to success.
DECIDING TO EXPAND
In present food culture, sushi has become as well-known as pizza, hamburgers or tacos. Of all of our brands, Sushi-Rama was the obvious choice for development – in a generation of instant gratification, having a conveyor belt-themed restaurant appealed to the masses. In addition, similar fast sushi concepts have been successfully executed in larger markets with great success including New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles.
A primary requirement of expansion is financial stability. The old adage: “It takes money to make money,” is very true; though it doesn’t mean that businesses don’t gain capital in other ways. Finding a group of people who believe in a brand, its staying power and ability grow, can be a huge step toward growth. There is no harm is seeking out venture capital or private equity that could invest in younger companies and achieve faster expansion.
A LOYAL TEAM
A major challenge in growing Sushi-Rama was finding skilled labor in all regions willing to commit and learn the necessary skills to make our machine-produced sushi. With so many workers moving to Colorado’s marijuana industry’s robust cashflow, it’s grown increasingly difficult to retain employees. With the National Restaurant Association reporting 37 percent of its members struggling to keep workers, up from 15 percent the last two years, it’s no wonder critics of the industry are wondering how it will continue to remain sustainable. However, by giving each team member the respect they deserve and instilling a sense of value and worth, they in turn believe they’re contributing, not just to the business, but to the community. This has been key in maintaining a devoted and reliable staff.
We also make sure each new team member trains with a veteran, instills the values and expectations of the organization. Without this desire and dedication to learn the necessary skills of keeping our sushi fast, and more importantly, fresh, we wouldn’t have a business at all.
MAINTAINING A COHESIVE BRAND
Building a brand with a solid foundation, core values, concept definition, defined roles of team members and the ability to maintain a cohesive look and feel is key.
For instance, at for our Denver International Airport location, opening October 2018 without a conveyor belt, we are relying heavily on our retro-mod decor and other facets of the concept to keep the experience consistent. Inside Denver International Airport, our food is prepared in plain view and every item is time-tagged for freshness, with our commissary kitchen controlling the supply chain, just as we do at our River North, Denver Tech Center and Lone Tree locations.
Just like a recipe book for the kitchen, there should be a manual for an operation that allows everyone to adhere to standards, covering everything from design, to customer relations, to how we talk about the brand. It’s incredibly important that our message of being “fast, fresh and fun,” is embodied in each new location.
This may seem small, but it is extremely important to us to ensure each restaurant has the same atmosphere and guest experience. As we look to continue expansion with one to two new locations each year, we will always work to keep this ideology.
Chef Jeff Osaka is no stranger to opening restaurants. Over the past 10 years in Denver, he’s opened many restaurants, including the critically-acclaimed Twelve, and currently has multiple concepts in addition to Sushi-Rama including Osaka Ramen, Tammen’s Fish Market inside Denver Central Market, and 12@Madison.