Sushi Sake Lobster Blast
Cuban-American brothers Angel and James Aguayo were inspired to create Sushi Sake in 2009 to merge their two favorite restaurant concepts – Samurai, a teppanyaki house, and Akashi for sushi – into the kind of affordable sushi experience that guests can enjoy weekly.
“Miami is more of a fusion place for sushi restaurants,” Angel Aguayo says. “There are very few traditional Japanese restaurants.” The Aguayos have created a late-night sushi and hibachi sensation, with 15 locations now in Miami-Dade County and Key Largo. They have never closed a restaurant and regulars come in several times a week. It’s a far-cry from NAOE, Hiden and the buzzy high-end omakase spots in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles, but with their late night hours (open as late as 5 am) and party vibe, they’re simply giving the people what they want.
If you aren’t familiar with Sushi Sake, that’s going to change soon. The Aguayo brothers are hoping to have more than 100 locations within the next five years. The brand is now registered to franchise in 34 states, with immediate plans to expand to Houston and Orlando. Frankly, sushi purists won’t be impressed with the best-selling Miami Heat roll, filled with shrimp tempura, cream cheese and imitation crab meat. But while they enjoy omakase counters during their travels, and admire brands like TAO, Nobu and Zuma, the Aguayos are aiming to be The Cheesecake Factory of sushi, with generous portions and more than a hundred menu options to suit a wide variety of tastes.
“Our concept is more involved in volume,” Aguayo says. “An omakase sushi counter has no room for expansion. It’s more of a personalized concept built around the chef. It doesn’t attract me on the business side.” Instead of Toyosu Market, they’re sourcing their fish from True World Foods and Restaurant Depot. Only the hamachi comes from Japan and they’re using yellowfin tuna instead of bluefin tuna with lots of local Florida catch including cobia, wahoo and conch.
Sushi Sake NFL roll
The Aguayos grew up in Miami and Angel recalls that his first experience with sushi was terrible. “I must have been 18 years old,” he says. “My friend introduced me to sushi at an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant in Coral Gables and I got so sick. But think about the quality of the fish we were getting.” At Sushi Sake, all the fish is fresh, never frozen unless mandated by state regulations (like with wahoo) and they said they’ve never had a case of food poisoning in more than a decade.
A couple years ago, the Aguayos brought on their longtime friend Jose Schwank, who had a 20-year career in private equity, to oversee franchise development. “The way we’ve been pitching it now is an urban, late-night, hibachi and sushi, family-style dinner,” Schwank says. “For the small footprint that we offer, between 1500-1800 square feet, we have one of the highest AUVs (average unit volume) at $1.8 million. Your all-in cost including franchise fees is $400-$700,000. Most of the teams that are interested in franchises, they don’t care about concepts. It’s numbers driven and we don’t fluff the numbers. We don’t carry any specialty proteins like uni. Most of the protein that we have we can use across the entire menu.”
Sushi Sake Biscayne interior
The key to success will be consistency and Aguayo is proud of the systems that he’s developed. Franchisees train in Miami for two weeks to learn these systems and each restaurant will have a head sushi chef and kitchen chef. From the beginning, he was dreaming big with the ultimate goal of franchising.
“There isn’t any sushi concept that has franchised like this,” Aguayo says. “Sushi requires skills. We do require head sushi chefs to have prior sushi experience but I’ve had sushi chefs that I’ve trained that are better than experienced sushi chefs. When it comes to production, balancing quantity and quality, they can’t beat these guys. My biggest concern in any franchise or restaurant is having the right head chef. He’s my guarantee.”
Sushi Sake JB Handroll
There are only two Sushi Sake recipes that aren’t shared with franchisees – the garlic butter and shrimp sauce, a creamy sauce served with fried rice. “We are huge on the sauces,” Aguayo says. He’s working on a deal with Restaurant Depot to sell bottled sauces nationwide.
Sushi Sake also just signed an exclusive deal with Postmates after they did $3 million in sales through the delivery service last year. Postmates is sponsoring billboards and events for Sushi Sake locally and they’ll have co-branded takeout packaging. Takeout and delivery represent 30-40% of Sushi Sake’s revenue and they’re looking to start servicing the sushi delivery market through ghost kitchens nationwide too.
Sushi Sake Hibachi Grill
“We look at a lot of analytics to determine which potential markets could turn into locations and then sites,” Schank says. “I put KPIs (key performance indicators) into a second database and use business intelligence to populate the MPI (market potential index) and can very accurately determine when you’re having breakfast, lunch or dinner, at what times and what price range you’re looking at. It’s pinpoint accurate.”