Genki Sushi: Let the Good Times Roll
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As Hawaii’s premier kaiten-style sushi establishment, Genki Sushi is rolling along, offering up some of the best sushi and local delights ever served on a revolving conveyor belt. This acclaimed establishment is perfect for those with a bottomless pit for a stomach or the most indecisive diner at that, as you can eat to your heart’s content with close to 60 captivating sushi classics to choose from.
Next April, Genki Sushi will celebrate 20 years of sushi excellence, and Joseph Bozzelli, chief administrative officer for Genki Sushi USA Inc., recently shared with Dining Out just how Genki Sushi is able to contribute to the world through the spreading of Japan’s sushi culture — which also has become a local entity all its own. In addition, we caught a glimpse of just what it takes to build a sushi empire unlike any other, and according to Bozzelli, it takes a lot more than just tasty sushi.
DO: When did Genki Sushi first open? And who founded this renowned eatery?
Bozzelli: Genki Sushi was founded by Genroku Sushi (the first company to come out with the kaiten belt), a Japanese company. Genki Sushi headquarters is actually in Japan, where we have about 200 stores. We have 280 stores in Asia alone, and we’re growing like crazy. However, Genki Sushi opened its first store in 1992 in Kapahulu. It was actually located across the street from where Genki Kapahulu stands today. Then, a few years after the lease ran out, we moved across the street to our current Kapahulu location.
DO: How many Genki Sushi locations stand today in the U.S.?
Bozzelli: Currently we have 14 locations in the Islands — nine on Oahu, two on Maui, one on Kauai and one on the Big Island. We also have four locations in Seattle, and we’ll be opening up our first store in the Los Angeles market come February. Fortunately for us, we’ve been doing really well.
DO: Most locals are very familiar with Genki Sushi, but for those who have yet to partake in the Genki experience, what can they expect?
Bozzelli: Genki Sushi is a family-oriented restaurant where they can expect quick food, immediate service and ultimate satisfaction (dine-in or takeout). As soon as you’re seated in the restaurant, there are sushi items that you can immediately pull from the conveyor belt. All of our plates are colored with a ring around them and priced accordingly, ranging from $1.50 per plate to $4.80 per plate.
As I said, Genki Sushi is based on kaiten sushi (kaiten means sushi served on a revolving conveyor belt), which started in Japan. It was initially an idea that was promoted to create a “fast-food sushi.” However, once the system took place in Japan, it ended up becoming highly competitive and it turned from this fast-food concept to this really inexpensive sushi that customers enjoyed.
DO: How many sushi chefs does Genki Sushi employ? Do the chefs go through a rigorous training process?
Bozzelli: Each of our stores has anywhere from four to six sushi chefs. Waikele is our biggest store, where we may have as many as eight chefs. Kaiten sushi differs from the traditional art of sushi in that the traditional way of making sushi is seen as more of an artistic form, with your sushi chef creating really nice products at an expensive cost. Here at Genki, we create really basic sushi in addition to some specialty rolls — but it’s conceived to be more of your “standard sushi.”
As for our sushi chefs, training could last anywhere from six months to a year, until they could work on their own as a sushi chef.
DO: There are times when customers have stacks of plates piled to the ceiling, but how many plates of sushi do you folks sell on average here?
Bozzelli: On average, you could say that our guest check equates to $12 per person, translating to four or five plates. Yet, we have a lot of people who come in here who can easily have 10 plates (per person) piled up — that happens all the time.
DO: How many sushi options are available here at Genki?
Bozzelli: Well, we have five different price options and we have about 60 items total on the menu for customers to choose from — that’s including other items besides sushi, such as the Teriyaki Bowl, Soy Beans, etc.
Our signature items include the Spicy Tuna Roll ($2.80), as well as anything with your standard ahi/salmon. Over the past couple of years, our seared ahi and seared salmon have been very popular. However, the Spicy Tuna Roll is our No. 1 selling item and it’s made from a Genki special recipe that we won’t reveal.
Other customer favorites include Stuffed Mushroom ($4.80), Garlic Chicken ($3.80), Onion Salmon Roll ($2.80), Ikura ($4.80), Spicy Tempura Roll ($4.80) and the Ultimate Trio ($4.80) featuring salmon, ahi and hamachi.
DO: Does Genki use a special rice for its sushi?
Bozzelli: Yes, we do. We use a special crop of California rice, and we have a special, highly guarded recipe that comes from Japan. This recipe is very important because the rice really is what makes the sushi. Of course, you can expect sushi vinegar and some other ingredients to season the rice as well.
DO: Will there be any specials that customers can look forward to this month, especially during the holidays?
Bozzelli: Yes, we do have a special that we just created. It’s called the Holiday Roll ($4.80) and it features a tasty combination of spicy tuna, ahi and avocado drizzled with an unagi sauce and spicy sauce, and topped with fried onions and green onions. It will be available during the entire month of December.
DO: Who comes up with these wonderful and unique sushi creations?
Bozzelli: Well, credit goes to our district managers Dustin Hara, Ryan Shimizu and Amado Garlitos, who come up with the ideas. These guys, along with the director of purchasing, David Moon, work to come up with our menu and our different monthly specials. They are really the key components for keeping Genki local, and really help to keep Genki evolving.
Dustin Hara is one of our district managers and has been with the company for more than 10 years. He manages the Waikele, Ala Moana, Ewa and Aina Haina locations, and has been very influential in the direction that we’re going — he has very brilliant ideas. Ryan Shimizu has been with the company for about 10 years as well. He manages the Waiau, Ward, Kaneohe and Kapahulu locations. Ryan also has been influential, however, more so with our production policies. Amado Garlitos manages the Kapolei and outer island locations. He has been with the company for eight years and has really helped to form and shape the company. Lastly, David Moon is our director of purchasing, and he has been key in making sure we get all the raw materials that we need at the right prices. All of our raw materials predominantly come from Japan, but the ahi that we use is always local. We have shipments coming in at least three times a week, if not daily.
DO: The local influence is quite apparent in Genki Sushi’s creations. Wouldn’t you agree?
Bozzelli: Yes, at first the local influence at Genki was hard for Japan to concede to, but in time, I think they understood that it isn’t primarily the Japanese who are eating the sushi here, it’s the locals — 80 percent of our stores are located within local communities.
Local tastes, local ideas have all influenced our menu. We also have many local workers here, so over time it’s no surprise that Genki has really involved into a local company.
DO: Genki Sushi will celebrate its 20th anniversary next April. In what ways has Genki grown since its inception in 1992?
Bozzelli: Well, from our first store to our fourth store there was a wide gap of time between each opening, but from our fifth store on, we were opening up stores every year. We saw the most exponential growth between 2008 and now.
DO: What’s the secret behind Genki’s success?
Bozzelli: The secret behind our success is definitely the product, and the concept, of course, adds to it. But the support we get from the local community really makes it happen, along with our great employees. We have about 500 employees nationwide.
DO: What does the future hold for Genki Sushi?
Bozzelli: Of course, we’ll always be creating new and unique sushi. Right now, we’re in the process of experimenting more with our dessert items and also evolving our catering department that should be up and going sometime next year.
- 94-299 Lumiaina Place
- Waipahu, HI 96797
- (and various locations)
- (808) 678-3180 (Waikele)
- (808) 735-7700 (Kapahulu)
- (808) 485-0227 (Waiau)
- (808) 247-9595 (Kaneohe)
- (808) 942-9102 (Ala Moana)
- (808) 683-1003 (Eva Town Center)
- (808) 591-5600 (Ward Center)
- (808) 373-4033 (Aina Haina)
- (808) 674-4227 (Kapolei)
- Open daily
- 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
- Call about special holiday hours.