Ono Sushi

This is my restaurant in San Diego. Ono Sushi has been my life for almost 12 years. I can’t really believe it. I have never ever, in my entire life, willingly stayed in one place that long. What up with that! Bam I’ll be fifty this September and the restaurant will be Twelve. Crazy run for the restaurant business. I do seem to have some luck with these things. I’ve opened five restaurants in the last 20 years and 4 are still open. the only reason the 5th isn’t open is because one was so packed it had to move to a bigger location.

It’s not all luck though. I’m not afraid of hard work. I always tell my friends I don’t work that hard I just a lot. I mean I’m not digging ditches in the hot sun but it is constant. The pace can be hectic. I seem to be continuously running errands.

Life is good. Ono Sushi has given me things that I never thought I’d have, and I don’t mean the get rich and famous drive a nice car things. Sean and I just had a twelve year anniversary. I mean come on. This business is supposed to end relationships. I worked for a guy in the 80’s whose wife caught him sleeping with the busboy. She freaked out at the restaurant in front of staff and customers telling the whole story at the top of her lungs. Good times.

I’ve travelled all over the world. I’ve seen and eaten food in some strange places with some crazy people. Got my BASE number tattoo’d on my arm in Bangkok with my head chef James just for the hell of it. Pan ha sib ha 1055. Thats Thai for BASE1055

I’ve worked with some really stellar people. I saw a picture today of one of my old employees and his new baby. He’s living in Sweden working on a masters degree, and on his way to Hong Kong this fall to get a second masters. I hired him when he was seventeen. Ono Sushi helped with that! Makes me proud.

I thought I’d show some before and after pictures and talk about how it happened. The story of Ono is quite simple. Two guys who really didn’t know what they were doing did good. I met Scott my business partner or he met me, at lefties saloon in Sun Valley Idaho where I’d landed after wandering aimlessly for a couple of years. As he tells the story a mutual friend Joe Bora, introduced us and I was in full sushi garb complete with a rising sun head band and a biker handle bar mustache. He told me he thought now this is someone I need to get to know. I was just there for my pre shift drink.

We ended up working together for a a whole ski season before we lit out for SD to start a catering company. We had one gig lined up to provide happy hour sushi one night a week to drunk people at Sharkies in Bird Rock. In the mean time we designed and Scott built a super cool mobile sushi catering cart complete with longboard bar and refrigerated case. It was so cool we actually received a patent on it from the US Gov. Never made a cent. We found out in short order that sushi catering has 2 inherent problems. One, its somewhat cost prohibitive. People want it, then when faced with the actual cost they opt for the taco bar every time. Two, People in the US have real preconcieved notions about sushi. They don’t want to eat it outdoors or off site.

We were slowly going broke with the catering business but we were making some good contacts. Scott and I went to the beach one day and were riding our bikes home past Saskas in Mission beach. They had a fish market at the time in a piece of property they had acquired adjacent to their main restaurant and I looked at Scott and said that would make a nice Sushi bar. We turned our bikes around, rode back to Saskas, and in our board shorts and flip flops asked for the owner. We met Tommy and told him what we were thinking. I’ll never forget what he said. He looked at us and said “you guys might have shown up at just the right time”. Indeed! We ended up opening Longboard Sushi a month later with one of Scotts gold cards (my credit was un-card worthy at the time) for $20,000. Tommy took the booze and we took the food. That lasted 2 years and is still open today.

The Saskas bought us out and we moved to Hillcrest. We had scraped and borrowed $75,000 and set out to open a restaurant in San Diego. I mean we had no clue, but thats were luck and hard work mix in the restaurant business. We ended up making it and honestly I don’t know how. I remember being about $100,000 in debt and a week away from opening when the city told us that we couldn’t use the Sushi cases we had installed. Scott said we’re %$#@!+ we won’t make it. Mutual Trading company had just given us a 30 day credit account, so I drove to LA, bought 3 sushi cases on credit, and Scott installed them that day. We were open that weekend. Sixty days into it we were using all the revenue to pay contractors and bills and owed our main fish company $60,000 with no way to pay. I’ll never forget Sh——san showed up for a meeting, we handed him $1500 in cash, and told him we have no way to pay you but we are doing good business and if you work with us we will be a loyal customer. We will pay C.O.D. and anything we have extra for every fish delivery from now on if you will work with us. He looked at us and said, “honestly thats more than I expected”. We still do business with them today.

This is what I’m talking about when I say I am obligated to give back. How can I say I am where I am because of me. Treat people well, be honest, give back, and things will fall into place. I remember sitting in the dish area when we were under construction chipping out cement that had been over poured with a hand sledge and chisel thinking I hate this. I could be a head chef somewhere earning good money with minor responsibility. This is the stupidest thing I have ever done. Maybe that was a factual thought, but If I had listened to myself I would have missed out on so much. I am grateful to all involved today and over the years @onosushi.

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