Sea change

| Print |  Email
Archives - July 2009
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
0505sushi020BAMBOO SUSHI
www.bamboosushipdx.com
Founded: November 2008, Portland
Employees: 20
Pounds of fish sold weekly: 275
Photos by Leah Nash
When Kristofer Lofgren decided to brand his new sushi restaurant “sustainable,” he knew he’d need to fight the perception that environmental consciousness comes with a higher price tag.

The 27-year-old restaurateur decided to open Bamboo Sushi in Portland in the same location as Masu East sushi restaurant, which he co-owned before buying out his partner. He’d keep prices the same despite switching to a menu swimming with certified, environmentally sustainable fish, a decidedly more expensive product.

To make a profit, he’d simply need a higher volume of customers.

Easier said than done in a county with 3,400 restaurants, many of which vie for the Bamboo Sushi market: professionals in their 30s and 40s with a taste for fine dining.

And that’s not to mention the ongoing recession, which has made meals out seem more dispensable, especially those involving pricey raw fish.

Lofgren’s strategy was simple. He’d hook customers on their first visit.

“We wanted to create loyalty and trust through certification and sustainability, not necessarily more customers,” he says. “The trick is getting them to come back again and recommend us to a friend.”

He reasoned that for some, sustainability would be a draw, but for the most part, customers would return based on the quality of the food and service, as they would with any restaurant.

Bamboo is the first sustainable sushi restaurant to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, but Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar in San Francisco operates under similar principles.

0505sushi027

0505sushi039
0505sushi036
0505sushi032


Despite a rising sea of awareness about food sourcing, other restaurateurs don’t seem to see success with sustainable sushi, presumably because the sushi industry profits by serving inexpensive fish, much of which is caught using destructive fishing and farming practices. Lofgren witnessed that reality as a partner in Masu East, an investment he made as an undergraduate at UC-Berkeley. Upon graduation, Lofgren moved to Portland to study environmental law at Lewis & Clark, but decided he could effect environmental change faster in the business world.

For most customers “sustainable sushi” means little. Through table tents, menus, a website and servers schooled in the eco-ethics of the fish industry, the restaurant invites patrons to learn about the term.

Much of the restaurant’s fish is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council as non-endangered species harvested by environmentally friendly methods. And Bamboo doesn’t serve seafood that appears on the “avoid” lists of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Blue Ocean Institute.

“Every fish can be tracked to the boat where it came from,” says the restaurant’s executive chef, Brandon Hill.

Getting that caliber of fish to Portland was one of the greatest challenges in opening Bamboo. Hill and Lofgren forged a relationship with Northwest seafood vendor Ocean Beauty Seafoods, which agreed to import sustainably certified fish in exchange for bulk ordering.

By purchasing nitrogen-frozen fish in quantity, the restaurant saves on high freight costs, a practice that shrinks its carbon footprint, Lofgren says.

Bamboo Sushi opened last fall amid an economic downturn that continues to push many Portland restaurants out of business. While Lofgren won’t disclose revenue figures, he says the restaurant has had successively more patrons each month.

Lofgren hopes the numbers become a step toward his ultimate goal: operating a sustainable business long-term. He recently visited Chez Panisse in Berkeley, the kind of 38-year-old, ecologically sound restaurant that inspires young restaurateurs to wax philosophical.

“They’re still doing something interesting and relevant,” he says. “The idea is not necessarily growth, but innovation and evolution.”
LUCY BURNINGHAM
 

More Articles

Podcast: Turn Things Around with David Marquet

Contributed Blogs
Friday, October 17, 2014
davidmarquet thumbBY TOM COX | OB BLOGGER

How can you move from a command-and-control leadership model to one of true empowerment and accountability? David Marquet did, and he took notes along the way.


Read more...

Gone Fishing

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY LORI TOBIAS

Business has been good to Laura Anderson, leading some to suggest she must be awfully lucky to find such success in a business notorious for failure. But luck’s had little to do with it.


Read more...

Grape Expectations

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY HANNAH WALLACE

Well-financed outsiders from France and California are buying up vineyards and wineries in the Willamette Valley.


Read more...

The 100 Best Nonprofits to Work for in Oregon 2014

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
14BY KIM MOORE

Proud, diverse and underpaid.

Pride in their organizations’ mission, fairness in the treatment of women and ethnic minorities, flexible work schedules — these are just a handful of workplace characteristics that employees of this year’s 100 Best Nonprofits appreciate about their organizations.


Read more...

Fork & Bottle

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014

National media can’t get enough of Oregon’s pinot noir, artisan-food purveyors and lively, independent film scene.


Read more...

Books Rule

October 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
BY JON BELL

Powell's stays relevant in the digital age.


Read more...

Podcast: Interview with Pete Friedes

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, August 27, 2014

082714-thumb friedesbookTom Cox interviews Pete Friedes, author of "The 2R Manager," about becoming a Best Boss.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS