Industry News | September 26, 2011 | QSR Exclusive Brief

U.K.-Based Concept Could Be First Big U.S. Sushi Chain

United Kingdom–based sushi concept YO!Sushi is crossing the pond and bringing its conveyor-belt operation to the U.S. after a deal was signed to open at least 10 units on the East Coast.

The fast casual, which is known for its sushi-lined belt that snakes around the dining room, will debut at Union Station in Washington, D.C., in early 2012.

Richard Pawlowski, owner of The Sushi Company of North America LLC, which signed the franchise deal, says YO!Sushi is a “very exciting concept” that has “proven itself through the recession.”

“We felt that having a brand like that, and having an ability to be first to market in some great parts of the East and Mid Atlantic, was certainly a deal we were very interested in pursuing,” Pawlowski says.

Pawlowski, whose companies also own Qdoba and Cosi units, among other restaurant brands, is joining forces with Darren Wightman to bring YO!Sushi to the states. Wightman was formerly executive chef for YO!Sushi, which has more than 50 units in the U.K., and will serve as operating partner for The Sushi Company of North America.

The development deal calls for at least 10 units in the Mid Atlantic region between Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. At least five of the units are expected to open by the end of 2012.

Pawlowski says YO!Sushi’s price, health appeal, bar-style seating, open kitchen, and modern ambiance will appeal to U.S. consumers—not to mention the conveyor belt system, which will be relatively new to the U.S.

“It’s like having a full-service meal at fast-casual speed,” Pawlowski says. “As soon as you sit down and have decided what you want, you can start picking stuff off the belt and start eating.”

While sushi is popular in the U.S., no major national brands have sprung up, something Pawlowski expects to soon change.

“I don’t know why there isn’t a nationally branded sushi chain right now,” Pawlowski says. “I believe that YO!Sushi could take that spot based on its track record in the U.K. and based on the team we have in place.”

By Sam Oches