Food & Culture

What It Is Like to Work at Denver’s Sushi Den by the Numbers

Several years back, I wrote this up, but I wanted to re-post it to the blog to reminisce about back’n the day during my stint at Sushi Den in or around 2001? Wow, 16 years ago.

Originally posted on July 7thy, 2017 and updated on July 29th, ’23 (slight layout and content tweaks)

Almost two decades later, Sushi Den is still going strong, and they now operate two neighboring locations Izakaya Den and Ototo.

After the Dotcom bust in the early 2000s, I finally decided to do what I had always wanted to do, which was to work in the restaurant industry. The only thing that deterred me was the thought of making 4x’s less money.

I also learned how comfortable shoes mattered.
There have been some small edits to the original posting.
Photo Description: Toshi'san and Yasu Kizaki of Sushi Den.
The two brothers although there’s a four brothers in total. Image courtesy of Sushi Den.
  • 1 year – about the amount of time I worked here.
  • 55 hours – worked almost each pay period.
  • 14 – peak number of hours worked in one day.
  • 150 lbs. – the amount of pounds of sushi rice that was prepared per night.
  • 7 lbs. – per batch of rice cooked.]

I learned on my own, out of necessity, mise en place, and I organized my section accordingly, although I was not a manager. Unfortunately, there was a bias for Japanese speaking individuals regardless of their qualifications (no hablo japonés fluido).

That unqualified individual, I am a still acquainted with till this day, and I have traveled with her to Fukuoka, Japan. (on another note, I did enjoy working with Jose Payan, a massive Neil Diamond fan who returned to Mexico and Igor Federov who returned to St. Petersburg, Russia, and I hope dude is ok).
  • 23 minutes – cooking time for the rice (pressure) cooker that was in continual use (total of three).
  • 7 p.m. – the peak dinner service time.
  • 5 p.m. – best time to come with kids/great time for family’s.
  • 1 hour, 45 mins. – amount of sleep I got after a night of drinking, and prior to having to work a 10 hour shift which was pure hell. Luckily it wasn’t that busy that night, and I got to leave early.
  • 40+ types of fish on average is served at Sushi Den.
  • $13 – for an appetizer with 5-pieces of fish.
Photo Description: the front portion of the restaurant, and if you worked FOH as the host, you would know a lot of the VIP's get sat up front.
The front section in which you can see Ototo to your right across the street. Image courtesy of Sushi Den.
  • 3 to 4 – (I forget exactly how many) amount of days Sushi Den closes throughout the year for holidays which sucked for us, but for the most part, they’re always open.
  • 3+ – amount of local “celebrity’s” I’ve seen at Sushi Den such as Shannon Sharp, Todd Helton, Scott Hamilton (haha), and bunch of others which included some of Colorado’s big business owners.
  • 30 seconds – Approximately the amount of time a sushi chef takes to prepare a California roll (I’ve seen it done in 13 seconds).

When it comes to celebrities, Sushi Den always got a lot of Av’s, Rockies (Todd Helton, Nuggets, and Bronco players (like Shannon Sharp). Except, out of them all, the one that shut the kitchen down, meaning everybody wanted to run out front to look, was Shakira, aye guey.

Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamaguchi had also visited, but I would only get giddy if Mike Ness came in although in Newport Beach, I did found out he was a regular at Bear Flag Fish. He had his own off menu item, the Social D burrito.
  • 10 pm –  is sometimes how late we’d receive the fish from Japan which is flown in fresh (not frozen) directly from the Nagahama fish market in Japan (Kyushu). This meant we’d have to prep the fish for storage which made a long shift even longer.
  • 0 – regret working here, and I didn’t do it for the money. That’d be a joke.
  • 4+? – Coloradans tend to think any Asian working in a Japanese restaurant is Japanese, but I grew up with a couple of the people working here. Most are Chinese, Vietnamese, and a few Koreans, but we also had 2+ Mongolians (my limited Russian language ability came into play).
  • 650+ – average daily diners come here just for dinner service.
  • 2/14 – Valentines Day is the busiest night of the year.
Photo Description: the middle section of Sushi Den.
One of the last bits of the decor of how the restaurant had originally looked. Image courtesy of Sushi Den.
  • 11:58 – close means 12:00, and yes you can come in 2 mins. prior to close.
  • 0 – Amount of happy thoughts I had in my head when somebody would come in 2 mins. prior to close on a Sat. night.
  • 2% – Chance that you won’t see the owner Toshi’san working the sushi bar because he does take vacations, but he’s constantly working even on his days off.
  • 1 – the number it’s been rated in Colorado several years in a row.
  • 80 – I think that’s about how many people worked here (total staff)

I never knew who did this, but the greatest and coolest thing I will never forget are the people who bought an entire round for everybody in the BOH, which is not a small number (multiple times). Whoever it was, decades later, I want to say thank you!

I have done this at places I have dined at, so I sort of am paying it forward from their gesture.
  • 80 – approximately the amount of “dynamites” prepared a day
  • $120 – was an average amount I’d spend between two people which included drinks (lite drinking).
  • 1 min –  is the amount of time you spent reading this, and it’s one minute you will unfortunately not get back.
  • 10+ – amount of times I’ve heard Aki’san call a particular individual an ahou!
  • 3 days – is how many days I spent in Fukuoka which is the hometown of the owner and a couple of the people who’ve worked here.
  • 7 mins – approximately the amount of time it takes to cook and plate yuan yaki.
Photo Description: the middle bar which is just right behind the front bar of Sushi Den.
The “back bar”. Regardless of which bar, they have the coolest bartenders from Travis to Mike. Image courtesy of Sushi Den.
  • 8 sushi chefs – work the sushi bar, not including the two who prepare rolls. Sidenote: It was really cool when we had customers buy the entire kitchen beer! That is not cheap, but very cool for people to take care of the BOH, Thank you.
  • 2 – is the amount of people who moved to Japan after working at Sushi Den, and they weren’t ethnically Japanese or even Asian (one is living outside of Tokyo and can now read and speak Nihongo/Japanese).

In Los Angeles, several well-known Japanese restaurants got in trouble for the style of management and the work ethic expected from their employees. It was no different at Sushi Den, and I joked when you walk through the door, you are now on sovereign Japanese soil.

It’s a lesson in culture where a smile by your boss means you are eff’n up, not that he thinks you’re doing a great job.
  • 9.5 out of 10 – is how I’d rate how pretentious AF it is to read on Yelp “I might be spoiled, but I live in (LA/New York, etc)”. That right there is the pretense that they’re a “big city folk expert sushi critic”. The sad thing, is that I’d check their profiles to see where they eat in LA/SF, and it’s typically some of the most mediocre places, so how are you spoiled.
  • 3 languages – spoken and are often mixed together to create one language in the kitchen, and you never know if somebody is speaking Japanese, Spanish, or English because the accents are always so bad.
  • 0 – amount of times I had cut myself *knock on wood* (I did shave off a little skin with the mandolin slicer though, so I did have some skin in the game).
Photo Description: the upstairs area of Sushi Den.
The upstairs area gave the staff a good workout going up and down those stairs. Image courtesy of Sushi Den.

Sushi Den has been around since the mid 80’s, so there have been changes made throughout the decades although the ground-up construction of Izakaya Den next door is entirely new (RIP Pearl Street Grill, our old watering hole).

Toshi’san does not slack, the dude, is a machine, and I ask you to name any other owner who has had his success yet still works BOH. Even days we thought he was not coming in, he came in as a customer.

The Japanese work ethic is no joke, and I found that out from my ex and friends living and working in Japan, I’d die.
Photo Description: an image by sushi den of their nigiri sushi.
The nigiri sushi at Sushi Den. Image courtesy of Sushi Den.

I remember one time after work, we all went next door to Pearl Street Grill, like the seven of us, and ordered some drinks. It was a slow night, so the waitress had been drinking, and the 7+ drinks on a giant tray toppled two beers onto the lap/shoulder of our head chef (we laughed). At that point, she said eff it and tossed the other five drinks onto the floor.

Awwww, good times.

I managed to go back in the last year or two, and I found the food starting to feel dated because they’re still stuck doing “con’Fusion” style food. Fusion is rampant in Colorado, but it’s Sushi Den that still sets the benchmark for others to mimic or copy.

Photo Description: the private room of Sushi Den that most won't ever see. It's for private parties to VIP's.
The private “Denchu” room. Image courtesy of Sushi Den.

If you want to see how Japanese sushi bars stack up against the competition, I have a full list on my ranking of sushi bars in Colorado, Los Angeles, and Orange County.

Due to all the money in the Bay, the Yay Area, there has been several standout sushi bars open in San Francisco and on the peninsula. You can also check out my homie who just received a Michelin star, Seigo

Comparing Sushi Den to L.A. regarding what to expect in regards to scale, it would be on par with the atmosphere of Sugarfish, Nobu, Katsuya, or Sushi Roku. Except the three restaurants owned and operated by the Kizaki bro’s are all within a block of each other.

Sushi Den

1487 South Pearl St,
Denver, CO, 80210


For information about Izakaya Den or Ototo

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