One group of restaurateurs and developers is refusing to allow the ongoing economic uncertainty or wild swings of the stock market to cast a shadow over the opening of their new Chandler restaurant, The Sushi Room.
Scheduled to open in early October, The Sushi Room will be situated in the Downtown Ocotillo retail plaza at the corner of Queen Creek and Dobson roads. It is intended to compliment its sister restaurant, The Living Room, which is a self-described wine cafe and lounge.
“Now that we have been at the Living Room for two years we feel like these customers are perfect sushi customers,” said Patrick King, co-owner of both restaurants.
King said the 2,400-square-foot restaurant is intended to be fun, and will have a retro feel complete with lounge areas, a patio and a crescent shaped sushi bar as its focal point. This will be King’s 38th restaurant and his experience has taught him the importance investing in a first impression.
“We learned in opening places that we build ourselves that by not spending the right amount customers know it, they feel it,” King said.
The menu, which is in its infancy and should be ready in about three weeks, will be designed by head chef Joseph Chun, 34, who has already accumulated 18 years of experience in the business with 14 of those in sushi.
Chun grew up in the East Valley and has worked for many well known establishments in the area including Ra, Kona Grill and Sapporo.
In 2005 he opened Celsius at Desert Ridge. Although his first and only venture into restaurant ownership shuttered its doors in 2010, Chun did not lose his passion for sushi.
“It was a good learning experience, definitely,” said Chun, who added “with this I can just focus on what I do best and that’s food.”
Chun said The Sushi Room menu will carry the traditional sashimi and rolls, but with a European influence. Prices for basics, such as the California roll, will range from $5 to $8, specialty rolls will run around $10 and $14 for those containing high-end seafood.
“We’re still trying to keep it affordable, especially in this economy,” said Chun, although there will be menu items designed for people who don’t mind splurging.
Sushi will be primarily supplied by distributors True World Foods and International Marine Products. Chun has worked with both companies and feels confident in the product they deliver. He is also exploring local options for produce and might consider offering Arizona farm-raised shrimp if the quality meets standards.
Chun said that the restaurant is “trying to get rid of that stereotype that Arizona can’t get fresh fish because we’re in the middle of the desert.”
For people whose palate might not expand to include sushi, or those with dietary restrictions, The Sushi Room will offer a variety of non-sushi items such as steak and salmon, vegetarian options and a kid’s menu. The restaurant will also have a full bar that includes beer, wine and spirits.
The confidence of the eight owners in their new venture largely stems from the recent and future job growth in Chandler.
Spike Lawrence, Corona del sol graduate and co-owner of Lawrence and Geyser development, saw a demand for upscale dining in the area soon after the company built Downtown Ocotillo.
Perhaps a bit serendipitous, when the recession hit and banks stopped lending, Lawrence did something rare and invested his own cash to help bring the Living Room to south Chandler.
“They typically don’t recommend it,” said Lawrence of the decision, but added he had to do it “in order to get the guys to come down from Scottsdale.”
By the guys he means Tom Kaufman, David Dabruzzi and Patrick King, the team behind the successful Humble Pie restaurant concept.
“The gut feeling was that south Chandler was still under-served when it came to quality establishments,” said Lawrence, who compared the area to Ahwatukee 15 years ago.
His instincts proved to be correct.
Even though it was the middle of the recession when The Living Room opened in 2009, the restaurant began to see profits within the first few months. The same group will be partnering again to open The Sushi Room and sees no reason to expect a different outcome.
The plaza, after all, is located within a mile of where the new Intel plant is being built, which will bring in approximately 1,000 new jobs with an average salary of around $122,000. Downtown Ocotillo is also the first phase of a 100-acre mixed use development which, according to Lawrence, will include over 700 residential units and a 170-room hotel all within walking distance of The Sushi Room.
Morgan Sailor is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.