Early methods of preserving foods have produced several enduring favorites in the 21st century. One of those historic foods—sushi—has its origins dating back to 200 A.D. China where it is recorded they first began to store fish by fermenting it between layers of rice over several months. When needed, the rice would be discarded and the fish was eaten. By the 7th century, the method of preparing sushi had spread to Japan where they had adapted it and began eating the rice along with the fish, giving sushi an early reputation as “fast food.”

 By the 19th century, sushi had largely evolved into the delicacy we enjoy today, which includes several more ingredients including fresh vegetables, vinegared rice and nutrient-rich nori (sea vegetables pressed into a kind of edible wrapping paper to keep our fingers from sticking to the sticky rice). Willy Street Co-op owners have repeatedly asked for fresh sushi in their grocery store and it is with great pleasure that we’re welcome Okinawa Sushi into our Eastside store to fulfill that request.

A growing demand

This particular request was high on the list of priorities for Dean Kallas, the Co-op’s new Purchasing Manager, who accepted the newly created position in September of 2007. Having managed the Co-op’s Grocery Department for the last seven years, Dean’s experience will be significant as the Co-op moves into multiple sites and he begins filling the first position to be solely dedicated to overseeing the purchasing for our Co-op.

Dean says, “We started to offer sushi again because there was a growing demand for it from our owners. I felt that we did not have enough in-house expertise to efficiently produce it. I had several vendors approach me about selling their sushi at [the] Co-op, mostly bigger national companies,” he said. Similar to our relationship with the Seafood Center, Okinawa Sushi is a private company who will be working in the store and vending directly to our owners from the Deli/Cheese counter in the Co-op. Likewise, both the Seafood Center and Okinawa Sushi owners are requested to recognize our product policy and feature sustainable and appropriate ingredients.

A cleaner product

Dean researched several sushi vendors, one of whom was Pau, owner of Okinawa Sushi, over several months before making the final decision to give them the opportunity. He says, “I felt his company was the right fit. He (Pau) seemed more interested in making a cleaner product than most of the sushi I have seen elsewhere.”

Pau came to the United States from Burma at the age of 17. Starting work at a Miami-area grocery store sushi counter, he then worked for Hyatt Hotels where he says he learned the most about being a great sushi chef. After learning more about sushi-making and America, Pau wanted to see snow for the first time and try skiing, so he moved to the mountains of Idaho into the resort community of Ketchum. It was there that Pau made the connection with more natural approaches to creating sushi and included more organic ingredients.

But working for other sushi companies didn’t lend itself to self-expression and Pau admits he wanted to be more creative and make better sushi. He says, “I’d been dreaming about my own company where I [could] make what the customer wanted. I wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing. I wanted to do really good things for the customer.”

After approaching a grocery store in Ketchum to become their independent sushi provider, Okinawa Sushi was formed. Pau continues to own and operate that site in addition to the new Madison location. Lian, Pau’s only employee at this site, has assisted him in setting up their workstation and they’ve quickly been gaining an audience of sushi-deprived shoppers.

Offerings

Okinawa Sushi includes a repertoire of 18 to 20 different varieties of sushi at this time and Pau says that they will make most anything to order if it isn’t already made while they’re working at the counter. “We can do it in two to five minutes; just ask,” Pau offers. For large orders or for special orders Okinawa Sushi requires 48 hours, but they’re happy to help you create a platter to suit your tastes and help you with quantities if you’re unsure. Just let them know how many people you’d like to serve and they’ll work it out for you. To ensure that the sushi is served fresh daily, Okinawa Sushi staff will be at the counter from 8:00am to 1:00pm, seven days a week and then more afternoon hours during the week.

Organic and local ingredients

One important request Dean made of Pau was to use as much organic and local produce as possible. Okinawa Sushi has been working with our Produce department for most of what he needs for the sushi but admits there are occasionally shortfalls on product and he does have to go to other suppliers. Regardless, Pau estimates that 99 percent of their produce is organic. Sushi-grade fish is also very expensive to source and organic is nearly impossible to find. To make any fish or seafood sushi-grade, the meat must be frozen and stored at -4°F or below for seven days (total time), or frozen at -31°F or below until sold and storing at -31°F or below for 15 hours in order to be certain it’s safe to eat.

Pau has been very receptive to the request that he find the most sustainable sources for all of his ingredients. “That is not to say that it is perfect,” Dean states, “but we are working on improving his ingredients. Sourcing has been a big challenge, but I am confident that we can still improve. It feels like a balancing act, because a cleaner product is far more costly.”

Daily offerings

For a complete selection of Okinawa Sushi sushi rolls, please see their in-store display, but the following is a sampling of some of the fresh rolls they offer daily.

California Roll: 100% real crab, avocado and cucumber

Special Vegetarian Roll: avocado, broccolini, burdock root, sprouts, cucumber, asparagus

Spicy Tuna Roll: spicy sauce, cucumber, sprouts, sesame seeds, tuna

Rainbow Roll: 100% real crab, cucumber, avocado

Miami Roll: salmon, white tuna, asparagus, avocado

Dragon Roll: shrimp tempura, crab, cucumber, avocado, eel sauce, spicy sauce