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Emerging Brands

How a growing sushi concept is prepping for franchising

10-year-old Sushi Sake is standardizing its operations as it opens its doors to franchisees.
Photograph courtesy of Sushi Sake

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The concept: Sushi Sake

The details: A 14-unit, Miami-based, full-service sushi concept. Some stores have full bars and hibachi tables. All are open for late-night dining. In addition to traditional sushi offerings, the menu includes nods to Miami, such as the Calle Ocho Roll with ham croquettes, avocado, asparagus, plantains and potato sticks.

The backstory: Brothers Angel and James Aguayo started Sushi Sake in 2009, with the goal of shaking up traditional sushi concepts. The Aguayos long had plans to franchise the concept and, after putting systems in place to standardize operations, recently opened it up to potential franchisees. The chain is now registered to franchise in 34 states, with immediate plans to expand to Houston.

Why it’s worth watching: The concept’s current units range from 1,500 to 5,000 square feet, and from a simple sushi restaurant model up to a combined sushi-teppanyaki house with a full bar. The fusion rolls and other menu items differentiate the concept a bit from traditional Japanese restaurants, as do the chain’s late-night hours.

HERE ARE FIVE GROWTH-MINDED QUESTIONS WITH ANGEL AGUAYO, SUSHI SAKE CO-FOUNDER: 

  1. Why franchise and why now?

I would always say, “When I get to 10 restaurants, I’m going to franchise this.” I want to expand to other states and bring this concept to other places. Every time I go to Dallas, I say, “Man, a Sushi Sake would go great here.” … You can only control so many stores. It’s impossible for me to run 50 to 100 stores.

  1. What have you done to prepare for franchising?

One of my biggest fears of franchising was losing the quality for quantity. We’ve systemized everything. All our sauces are homemade, but we make sauces at one location and distribute them through all the locations. We partnered with a [food supplier] and we designed a tablet. All my head chefs have a tablet where they order. Every restaurant is the same. We use the same rice, the same rice vinegar, the same eel sauce. … Our main restaurant is our training restaurant. We have executive chefs there, an executive kitchen.

  1. How does being open late-night fit with your concept? And is it hard to hire employees for those hours?

On Friday and Saturday, my main store is open until 5 a.m. It’s a place where you can come in and enjoy the full menu. You go to Miami and there’s very few spots where [people] can come in and have a full menu when they leave the club. Hiring? I haven’t encountered a problem with it. The first thing with that is paying your employees right. A lot of our employees end up moving up to be shift leaders and managers. I had an employee become an owner.

  1. Are you seeing any interest in off-premise orders?

Takeout and delivery has been huge for us. It generates 30%-40% of our revenue. We just partnered with Postmates. We went from selling $60,000 to $3 million in Postmates per year. They worked hard on the marketing strategy and we did the same. Marketing is the key to success.

  1. Have you seen consumer interest in sushi change since you opened a decade ago?

It’s been a fun venture because of the fact that when I started, there were sushi restaurants, but they didn’t have my vibe. It was a traditional Japanese restaurant, where you would just sit down and enjoy the sushi. We have a lot of different rolls, a lot of fusion. … Once it’s 9 or 10 o’clock, we dim the lights. When we first started, we were all into music videos. We got rid of music videos, we just kept the music.

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