Business Food

Handrolls, the Next Sushi “Trend,” Over a Decade in the Making

Main image courtesy of the Sushi Nozawa Group

In Japan, sushi rolls can be picked up in train stations, scattered throughout the city, to the airport. It is the perfect, quick, and affordable snack if you are on the run.

It’s the Japanese version of a burrito.

First things first, chumaki to makizushi and temaki.

Before you start or visit a makizushi or “hand roll” restaurant, here is a breakdown of some of the categories and nomenclature within it. BTW, I’m going to go with with hand roll which when translated is temaki, but is used by one business as more of a fusion interpretation.

Makizushi are sushi rolls and here are a few Japanese types:

  • Hosomaki (small roll): typically one filling rolls that are cylindrical.
  • Chumaki (med sized roll): two to three ingredients that are cylindrical (you see a common theme happening).
  • Futomaki (big roll): three or more fillings (traditional ones are typically vegetarian) and cylindrical.
  • Temaki “hand (te) roll (maki)”: they are shaped like a cone with one or multiple fillings.
Cone shaped, so I’ll let you figure out which one this is.

Here are two examples of handroll restaurants

I am going to highlight one in Japan which is owned by Yoshinoya (a large Japanese fast food chain) and the other is the first dedicated hand roll restaurant in the United States which is in Los Angeles.

1. Kyotaru was established in 1932 and is one of Japan’s most popular sushi chains.

Yoshinoya doesn’t have the greatest reputation in the United States, but in Japan they own one of the most popular, convenient, and affordable sushi spots called Kyotaru.

My pics from my Kyoto trip and my breakfast.

In their words

“The company advocates a food business that offers good taste and health, and is conducts food service businesses mainly with sushi. The company has established a unique position with the three businesses, namely the take-out business of Kinki style sushi, Edo style sushi, packed lunches, ready-to-eat dishes and other products at the core, along with the restaurant businesses featuring the eat-in Edo style sushi shop Sushi Misaki Maru and the rotary sushi shop Kaisen Misakiko and others, and the external sales business that carries out sales and wholesaling to external customers and catering. The company intends to restructure its businesses for a new phase of growth, advocating challenges and innovation while protecting and nurturing the technologies and tradition cultivated to date. Through these food businesses, the company intends to fulfill its mission of offering luxury and happiness to customers.”

My fluent translator.

If you are doing sushi in Japan, you are competing in a country filled with sushi restaurants.

I know this looks really easy, but a lot of Americanized sushi restaurants could not and will not be on par with even a sushi hand roll spot done by Yoshinoya, and I will explain.

The reason being is that Japan is a country of roughly 130 million Japanese which is also a very homogenous country of ethnic Japanese, so if you are going to do sushi in a country that is majority Japanese, you better be doing it right because you’re not competing against a barbecue rib or taco joint.

This place reeks of the Japanese culture.

For the average Joe in Japan but upscale in the U.S.

It is fairly easy to find great quality, good tasting food in Japan for as low as $2-$6 from Yoshinoya, $1.50-3.50 from Kyotaru, to even the food found in a Japanese 7-11. Except, culturally the one big difference between the U.S. and Japan, is that perceived quality will come with a “luxury tax” or a product of lesser quality/capability than the Japanese counterpart. Luckily that is not the case with the American restaurant group listed next.

Hey, it’s an iPhone 6 shot, what do you expect.

Locations

www.kyotaru.co.jp

As of 2020, there are 331 locations spread throughout Japan and 2 outside of it.


2. Kazunori, the first hand roll restaurant in Los Angeles opened in 2008.

The first dedicated hand roll restaurant in the U.S. is by the popular, yet now closed Sushi Nozawa in Studio City because Kazunori Nozawa, Tom Nozawa (the son), and their business partners went on to open Sugarfish by Sushi Nozawa and Kazunori.

Yea, I’m a fan of the design although not so much of “Fish Market” verbiage. I would have done more gyotaku throughout the space.

This is from my Santa Monica visit, but if you love architecture and design, all the Nozawa locations are enjoyable to see because they have some recurring motifs such as the ceiling pattern (diagonal), but they all differ to some degree. Also, you can credit this all to the legendary Clement Mok who is an active member of the group which is epic.

I felt bad for homie with dude constantly looking over his shoulders, wtf. Do they pay this dude just to do that?

Small, simple, and straightforward bar only set-up (“Tom and Jerry,” hahaha, the Sushi Nozawa Group are killing it, and I give them big props).

No plates needed or large dishwashers, and you just need a trash can.

The set menus (for you to copy)

Every hand roll is basically $4, but the good choice is the 4-hand roll set (a smart business choice on their part).

3-HAND ROLL SET MENU – $12.00
Salmon Hand Roll
Bay Scallop Hand Roll
Crab Hand Roll

4-HAND ROLL SET MENU – $15.00
Toro Hand Roll
Yellowtail* Hand Roll
Salmon Hand Roll
Crab Hand Roll

5-HAND ROLL SET MENU – $20.00
Toro Hand Roll
Yellowtail* Hand Roll
Bay Scallop Hand Roll
Crab Hand Roll
Lobster Hand Roll

6-HAND ROLL SET MENU – $24.00
Toro Hand Roll
Yellowtail* Hand Roll
Salmon Hand Roll
Bay Scallop Hand Roll
Crab Hand Roll
Lobster Hand Roll

I think they have done a really smart job with their approach because it simplifies things in the back of the house from training to food costs, but the biggest benefit is with increasing their average cover.

Takes a little more training to prepare a makizushi, but almost anybody can do a hand roll.

Homie who was being watched like a hawk by dude looking over his shoulder is either an example of how serious they are about doing things right, or how they are paying dude a way too much to watch another dude.

I wanted to get “Fish Market” back in, but the compadres come first (ok, I lie, it’s a tie with fish market and homies).

Instagram worthy

I know a few restaurateurs in Los Angeles that base their business models completely around social media because in LA, social media’s influence is like no other place in the U.S. (if you have lived elsewhere and are now living in LA, and you are an influencer, blogger, etc. you will know this).

Intentional or not, but Nozawa’s togo box was the perfect Instagram worthy pic which is the predominant image you will see of Nozawa on IG. Well there you have it, you are welcome for that tidbit.

Imagine starting a restaurant group where you get to work with legendary to amazing people, well, that is the Sushi Nozawa Group.

My hood, Orange County

I can rattle off two other hand roll restaurants that opened up in the last half-decade that took on the Kazunori model. One of which is already on to their third location although their Irvine location recently going out of business. I have pics of their food because I have been to the one in Costa Mesa, but I am not a fan so I did not want to mention their name.

Kazunori

The Sushi Nozawa Group
sushinozawa.com

Kazunori
www.handrollbar.com
(how is that for a branding and SEO).

Locations

Downtown LA
421 S. Main Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013

(213) 493-6956

Mid Wilshire
6245 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 101
Los Angeles, CA 90048

(213) 642-6457

Santa Monica
120 Broadway Unit 104
Santa Monica, CA 90401

(424) 999-4594

Westwood
1110 Gayley Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90024

(310) 935-3974

Nomad NY
15 West 28th Street
New York, NY 10001

(347) 594-5940

Conclusion

These two businesses epitomize what other businesses should strive to be like because most business owners will go into business purely to make a buck. Although, if you know anything about culture, you will know that it is not just simply a convenient product that catapulted these two companies as leaders within their respected marketplace.

3 comments

    1. Hahaha!, I love that, and I think anime is what gets a lot of people to want to eat Japanese food in general (there are anime food pages). Well I hope you get to try it, especially in Japan.

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