An innovative concept in the “fast casual” dining market has landed in Paramus. Yo! Sushi opened its first US location in April and it’s already a big hit!
Yo! Sushi’s management transported the proven formula of quality ingredients, enthusiastic service, and fun (think conveyor belt-delivered sushi!) from around the world (where it already has 87 outlets) to the Garden State Plaza, and I was happy to test out the concept recently.
My first reaction to the idea of food being delivered on a conveyor belt was “ohhhhhhK, let’s see how this works.” You read that correctly. The sushi bar options make their way around the restaurant from the kitchen to your table via a tiny conveyor belt. After settling into a booth next to the open kitchen, and seeing the adorable little plates and bowls going around, I warmed up to the idea.
When you see an interesting looking dish roll by you, you simply pluck it off the belt and start eating (no waiting!). Each table (or counter seat) has soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi jars so you can customize your sushi as you see fit. You might ask how they know what your bill is if you are essentially ordering and serving yourself. Well, all the bowls on the conveyor belt are different colors. At the end of the meal, your server adds up the bowls by color and that’s your bill (pretty easy).
You might think, as I originally did, that this is just a cute gimmick with so-so food. Guess again! Top quality seafood delivered daily from local purveyors, thorough staff training (both kitchen and wait staff), and innovative recipes were mentioned as the bedrock of Yo! Sushi’s success when I spoke with Darren Wightman, the company’s VP of Operations, a few days after my visit. He told me that a London entrepreneur with no food & beverage experience started Yo! Sushi in 1997. What he did have was rock and roll production experience and that totally comes through when you spend time in the restaurant (see lava lamps below).
I was interested in how much and what kind of training the kitchen staff gets. Each location’s head chef and sous chef spend time in London with the Executive Chef to thoroughly learn from the company’s recipe bible, but they are also encouraged to experiment and innovate when they return home.
Here’s part of the fun experience at Yo! Sushi: each table has a call button of sorts to summon your server if you’d like to order off the menu (these reminded me of high-tech lava lamps). Press the button and the “lava lamp” turns from blue to red so your server knows you need something. Clever. Besides traditional sushi items, Yo! Sushi offers many hot items (ordered from a server), such as dumplings, beef skewers, spring rolls, and soft shell crab tempura (delicious!). In addition, there are quite a few choices of noodle and rice dishes (and many vegetarian options) that looked good. I loved the Blossom Roll (crunchy shrimp roll topped with spicy tuna and a sweet, sticky soy glaze), and the Salmon Avocado Maki (salmon, avocado and mayonnaise in sesame soy paper).
During my visit I noticed an interesting looking machine in the kitchen and Mr Wightman told me it was their “sushi robot.” A member of the kitchen staff drops cooked rice into the top of the machine and out pops perfectly formed rice that the chefs top with salmon or tuna, etc.
The restaurant has a casual, hip, feel to it. And I think shoppers will feel comfortable stopping in for a quick bite, or meeting friends after work. In the near future, they will offer takeout and catering, and even though the majority of the mall is closed Sundays, Yo! Sushi, along with the other mall restaurants, is open.
I asked Mr Wightman how they chose New Jersey for their first foray into the states. He told me that they are excited to be here; they love the demographic - young, vibrant, food-centric.
Garden State Plaza
Sunday: 11am – 9pm
Monday-Saturday: 11am – 10pm
Opening in Short Hills in September
Note: I was invited to visit Yo! Sushi and received a complimentary meal.