At Wasabi Sushi, there’s no waiting for a waitress to come and take your order. Your food is ready the moment you sit down – you just have to catch it before the person sitting next to you grabs the prawn cucumber pesto roll you wanted.
Food moves fast at this 17th and I Street eatery. The Kaiten-style sushi restaurant, conceived by alum Bo Davis, serves its food on a rotating conveyor belt, a popular delivery system used in Europe. At Wasabi, 110 plates can run on the belt, which sits in the middle of a long narrow dining table fit for 40 people. Diners can begin their meal as soon as they get their hands on one of the plates enticingly rolling by.
“It’s a new option and it has a huge market,” said Wasabi executive chef Miguel Choy. “You normally go to a good restaurant and spend 10 to 15 minutes just looking at the menu. With Kaiten sushi the dishes are ready the minute you sit down.”
Wasabi’s sushi rolls and other modern Japanese delicacies are arranged on one of five color-coded plates. Each plate is assigned a price, ranging from $2 to $5 dollars, and diners are charged based on the price and number of plates they take.
Wasabi’s menu plays with modern Japanese cuisine infused with Latin American flavors. Popular dishes include the yellowtail with herb salad roll and flounder soy tiraditos, a Peruvian dish that consists of raw fish marinated in soy sauce with cilantro and basil.
Davis, 32, said his time abroad in London inspired him to introduce this new dining concept to his old college town.
“While I was earning my finance degree at the London Business School I decided that I wanted to start a business,” he said. “I worked with two other people and we started looking at restaurant chains in London.”
Davis said he admired the London sushi chain Yuzu, and paired with Choy, Yuzu’s co-founder, to open a similar restaurant in the District. After working as an executive chef for 18 years, Choy packed up with his family and headed to the U.S. with Davis to bring Wasabi to life.
“I met Bo in London and he told me about this project and it seemed very exciting,” Choy said. “Wasabi is the only reason I moved here.”
Davis said he didn’t aspire to be a restaurant entrepreneur at the beginning of his college career. This philosophy major stayed at GW after he graduated in 1997, becoming a full-time Instructional Technology Lab staff member. In 1998, Davis developed Prometheus, a Web-based courseware application designed to provide college faculty members with a means of publishing online course content. Sixty-five universities and a quarter of a million students used Davis’s software until it was bought-out by Blackboard in 2002 for $10 million.
“After Prometheus, I wanted my next business to be something I could watch,” he said. “Software isn’t tangible; I could never touch it, so it’s nice to do something different.”
After spending two years with the Peace Corps and a year in London Business School, Davis came back to the U.S. last summer to start working on Wasabi. He acquired his start-up capital from 15 private investors, and after a million-dollar renovation of an old dentist’s office on 17th street, Wasabi opened for business this past July.
“There are Asian fusion places in L.A. and London, but not in D.C.,” Davis said. “The belt is a different delivery mechanism; it’s not traditional sushi.”
Choy, a native of Peru, said he likes to energize his dishes with recipes from his Latin and Chinese heritage. Wasabi’s ever-changing, 98-item menu offers interesting dishes such as crispy duck and cucumber rolls, chicken anticucho (a Peruvian chili pepper over chicken and rice) and green tea mousse with mango dressing for dessert. Wasabi also offers a sake night every Thursday where diners can sample different sakes, a type of Japanese liquor.
GW alum Lee Soffer dined at Wasabi for lunch last Thursday. He said he found the food average but inventive.
“They pride themselves on their conveyor belt system and it was fun while I was there,” Soffer said. “They’re just trying to be trendy.”
Senior Jessica Willen has also sampled Wasabi.
“My friend got sushi and she really liked it. I got a dessert spring roll that was good, but it was pretty small,” she said.
Another branch of Wasabi is scheduled to open in Arlington next spring. Davis said he wants to open two more locations within 12 months and reach 20 branches within five years.
“I also want to move to other urban markets besides D.C.,” Davis added. “I’ll probably go down South.”
He also hopes to bring Wasabi to GW’s campus, but for all those who aren’t willing to wait that long to try this fast-paced fusion sushi, Davis said Wasabi will be accepting GWorld in the next few weeks.