In a shorter amount of time than it takes most 20-somethings to find a job, a Hampden resident has created his own.
Sushi Now, owned by 24-year-old Ahm Kongsuriya, opened up next to Lissus’ Pizza in downtown Orono on Oct. 16.
Kongsuriya, along with his business partner Oscar Ody, started working on their concept to create the “Subway of Japanese food” three months ago.
“I think it’s going to be good. We’re not Ichiban’s — we have reasonable prices and you can get it quick,” Kongsuriya said.
According to Kongsuriya, the work needed to convert the storefront space to a restaurant was a challenge the young entrepreneur welcomed.
“This used to be a barber shop. I did everything from scratch in two weeks,” he said. “I always had this in mind, so I walked into the space and knew what I wanted. It’s fun — I like a challenge.”
When he was 16 years old, Kongsuriya moved with his family to Hampden from Thailand. The family quickly established themselves and now his relatives run several of the Thai restaurants in the Bangor area including Orono’s Thai Orchid, which is owned by Kongsuriya’s cousin, Eddie Sarisodsai.
Kongsuriya learned the art of sushi rolling from the chef at his aunt’s Thai Siam in Bangor. Six years ago, Thai Orchid’s attempt to add sushi to its menu proved an unpopular move, but Kongsuriya believes the Orono market is now ready for eel, squid and California rolls.
“They didn’t want to try new things, but now young kids, teenagers, they like to eat it,” Kongsuriya said.
Kongsuriya has taken on one employee so far. The two skillfully weave around each other in the small space, using a small stove top, a toaster and cooler of fresh fish to create all the menu items.
“Oh, don’t call him an employee, he just makes it worse,” Kongsuriya joked.
While years spent learning the secrets of the family business helped, Sushi Now is a self-financed operation for Kongsuriya that has so far proved to be a good investment. In the first month he has already met his revenue projections for two to three months from now.
However, Kongsuriya said he intentionally set his goals low.
“I saved up. The bank wouldn’t give me a loan, even though what I had in the bank would have covered it twice,” he said.
Kongsuriya’s and Ody’s plans for Sushi Now do not end in Orono. Originally, the pair had considered running a Subway at the Bangor Mall, but for the cost of starting one of those franchises they believe they can open 10 Sushi Nows. Even when factoring in the weekly trips Kongsuriya will make to the Sun Market in Portland for fresh sushi-grade fish, Sushi Now is a small enough investment that Kongsuriya believes they can safely replicate it around Maine and New England.
So far, Sushi Now has been busiest Friday and Saturday, which is when you might see co-owner Ody’s sister taking your order, but all other times you will be asked to write down your selections yourself.
“When I’m here alone, I’m not taking your order,” Kongsuriya said with a smile.
Based on customer suggestions, Kongsuriya said he will most likely start offering late-night service from 12 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The plan is to offer only the four most popular menu items: California rolls, salmon rolls, spicy tuna rolls and miso soup.
Kongsuriya said he was initially hesitant — “I’m here 12 hours a day already, I don’t need to be here any longer” — but feels up to the challenge.
The newest Orono restaurant is an experiment as the partners figure out how to make the healthiest, cheapest and fastest sushi around. Speed is key and the space is small, so Kongsuriya said customers should call first and expect a wait of no longer than a 20-minutes.
“We were thinking of a Japanese name, but then we thought, ‘no, people want sushi right now’ — so we chose that name,” Kongsuriya said.