Oh, hey there. It’s us. Sabi…Sabi Sushi.
First of all, apologies for disappearing like that. You’ve been a huge support system for us since the start of this adventure, but we couldn’t write the final chapter until the dust had settled…And as I wipe my finger on the bamboo floor of Sabi, I realize that yes, the dust has indeed settled.
This is going to be a 3 part post:
1. What happened
2. Where are we know (Trevor’s Emotional Wrap-Up)
3. Thank You. +Never Before Seen Pictures (restaurant designs, website designs – all the things that would’ve been!)
Lets get to it.
For those loyal fans who’ve been following the story, you know that we had a great recipe for success.
- We trained at Sushi Bootcamp in L.A. with Chef Yi
- We had a prodigious architect design our restaurant
- We won over $50k in prizes from business plan competitions.
- We had our plans dissected by some of the top executives of Noodles & Co, Chipotle, and Smashburger.
- …..So what could go wrong?
Well – as with any business, there were some assumptions. Key assumptions. Like, you know..are we building something that customers want?
That’s when we decided to do something a little crazy at the guidance of our key mentor, John Prendergast. Rather than building a restaurant for ~500k, and signing a 10 yr lease commitment, we decided to run a little pilot test to make sure we had sufficient demand.
We never changed the vision (highest quality ingredients, made fresh to order, customizable, affordable, fast) – but we changed the format. We launched the first ever “online restaurant”. Although it sucked to shelve our crazy ideas for in-store designs, promotions, etc……we needed to test the core idea of the restaurant first: Fast-Casual Sushi.
We rented a kitchen on an hourly basis, put our menu online, and let the people of
Denver Tebow, CO order their lunch online. The sushi was delicious, our service was over-the-top-nice, it was fast (<10min to get your order) and cheap ($7 or $9 for a huge roll and edamame, no tipping allowed!)….just without a physical location (hence calling it The Restaurant Without a Restaurant”).
It definitely wasn’t the same as building the real thing, but it was a great way to test the market.
Sounds simple, so what happened?
1. People loved it. (ahem) correction. People loved eating Sabi…once every 3 weeks (red flag for fast-casual industry).
2. People ordered due to our charisma (which got us into CBS News, Denver Post, Westword etc..) and the support of our venture rather than a daily craving for sushi.
Sure we had some addicts (we love you too Deborah 😉 )but what we were attempting to do relied on heavy volume.
There was a reason fast-casual sushi had never been done before: it just didn’t have the same “daily” appeal that you get with staple foods such as Sandwiches, Burritos, Salads and Pasta. While you don’t expect people to eat at your restaurant everyday…you do need daily likability to survive with fast-casual. Its a subtle but very important point.
We heard from thousands of customers that Sushi is a great change-of-pace, but not a mainstay. They rarely had a complaint about our taste or service, they just didn’t want sushi that often!
And you know what? We were completely okay with that. Maybe from the outside it appears that Sabi was a bust, but allow me to drizzle this cliche on you: its about the journey, not the destination. We learned more in one year of Sabi about business & life than through all of our time at Duke. It made us smart, and it made us tough:
Operating a restaurant was a huge challenge.
As my fellow intellectual Trevor Ragan put it – “Sabi was a m*therf*cker.”
The kitchen, at times, could only be described as a chinese firedrill crossed with a japanese necktie (Ok, I don’t even know what that meant, but it sounds crazy as hell, so you get my point). We lived on couches, in basements, and a closet (not joking) while building this concept up over the year. Once we launched – five of us worked, 19+ hours a day for two months. Its been 4 months since we closed and my hands still smell like spicy Tuna mix (its ok, I’ve already come to realize that this blog post isn’t going to do me any favors with the ladies).
At the same time – it was hands down, the best experiences of my life. How does that make any sense?
The only analogy I see is how soldiers look back at Army bootcamp “Looking back, that was a great experience, and it made me what I am today……and no I would never, under any circumstances, do it again.”
In the end, we came to a few conclusions:
1. We loved the process of making something out of nothing. Our passion lies in connecting with people, and building value from scratch…Sabi just happend to be the vehicle that allowed us to discover that. Some see it as a failure, but we feel privileged to find what we love to do at the age of 21.
2. Sushi isn’t ready to be a staple food in America yet. We came into this knowing that probably going to be the outcome. As part of a start-up the odds are that you will fail and die. However, if it was indeed time for sushi to make the step up into a major player in fast-casual, then we set ourselves up to be uniquely positioned to capitalize on it. I’m sure in ~10-15 years we’ll see someone emerge as a major player in Sushi, but not today.
3. We had a blast, and we followed our heart. Our motto is do what you do and we did exactly that. We look forward to keeping the friendships we gained and the lessons we learned for the rest of our lives. As you’ll see, this isn’t the end, but just the beginning. We’re already forming new business ventures with the people we worked on Sabi with, and as you’ll see in the sections of where are they now, we can’t believe how lucky we are for where we landed after Sabi!
Where are they now? (Trevor’s Emotional Wrap-up)
I started this blog 700 days ago when I first traveled out to LA to train with Phillip at Sushi Central. Looking back over the past couple of years it’s seriously ridiculous to think about the things the three of us got to do together, absolutely unreal. Sabi definitely put us through the ringer. It tested our friendship and who we were as people, but in the end it changed all of us for the better and set each one of us up a path that would have never been reachable without it.
I saw Shaan turn from an unorganized and sometimes lazy college student to by far one of the smartest business minds I’ve ever seen in my life. Seriously, you should see him. He’s already running the show at our new job and it’s only been a couple of months. Sabi brought out the best in him by uncovering a huge passion and skill of his and developing it in overdrive for the past 2 years. Shaan is now doing Business Development at Mitchell Energy out in Brisbane. It’s a small 5-6 person start-up that is trying to change the world.
I saw Dan turn into a man. There were some really rough patches that the three of us went through and Dan was somewhat of the anchor to the team that kept us all together no matter what the situation. It was unbelievable how much he changed over the course of Sabi. He took everything in stride. Learned how to build a financial model without knowing the ins and outs of the industry is a tall order, but he handled it. He did all the dirty work, and never complained. He eventually had the kitchen looking like the inside of the Toyota Factory – and guess what he’s doing now? Dan just got hired by Facebook…no big deal. He’s out in San Francisco working for a company that’s about to have a $100B IPO. I hear he went halfsies on his stock options with the Winklevoss twins..
As for me, I am out here in Brisbane with Shaan also working for Mitchell. I obviously don’t know much about the energy industry but each day I am learning and each day I am trying to bring my creativity and work ethic to the table. I feel so fortunate to be where I am. Sometimes it seriously blows my mind to think about how I got here and the two main reasons I am here are my Dad and Sabi.
Shaan’s actually writing an e-book about all the lessons learned and greatest stories from Sabi. He publishes one chapter a week. They’re short and funny- drop your email in this box to receive a copy. (UPDATE! He started writing, and you can find it here : 32Handshakes
The Thank You Section
More important than the things we got to experience were the amazing people that helped us every step of the way. There is no way we can ever thank these people enough.
In no particular order…
Wow. This one is the toughest one of them all. The trust and belief that you showed in us was unbelievable. The two weeks we each spent with you in LA literally changed our lives. The relationship that we developed with you was bigger than sushi, bigger than the restaurant and bigger than anyone of us. You have a gift with people and we are so thankful that we got to experience it. Honestly we are at a loss of words writing this. All we can say is we love you and thank you so much for all that you have done. Friends for life.
One of the most important things about a start-up is finding that first “yes, you could totally do it”. In this world, there are too many doubters, cynics, pessimists, and even realists..they are a waste of your time. Lisa, thank you for that first vote of confidence. As a Professor, it’s your job to give us an education, and by helping us get started on Sabi you gave us the learning opportunity of a lifetime.
Howie was the Director of The Duke Start-up Challenge and was a key team member of ours. In Lost terms, you were our “constant”. The fact that you were always thinking about us, and finding ways to help us, advise us, or reach out to us motivated us to keep pushing further.
The infamous creator of Tommy’s and The Q-Shack. He literally sat down for us for hours and opened his books to us. Dan would email him about once a month with a list of questions a few hours later there was always a reply answering every single one of them. Thanks, Tommy.
She taught us how to set up a restaurant and more importantly how to treat people. She is the owner of the Duke Refrectory and makes the greatest yellow daal in the world.
She helped us come up with the initial conceptual designs of Sabi. She would spend hours talking over every little detail of the restaurant and how we were going to make each one “special.”
Michala, Towf, Mike, and Liz
The original taste testers! These were our best friends at Duke and were always there to support us and even pretended they liked Shaan’s nasty “buffalo chicken with ranch”.
Duke Start-up Challenge
Winning this competition was one of our biggest achievements. It gave us the money to live off of for the year while we location hunted. More importantly than the money it gave us a belief that this could really be done. They had the guts to give the prize to a team that didn’t have flashy technology or patents. Can’t wait to give back and make this competition the best in the world.
Nolan, Casey, Kyle and Seth. Thanks for all the support and coming to the start-up challenge. Much appreciated! Hold on to those spray-painted t’s they might be worth something someday;)
Sarah, Allison, Stephen, Aaron, and Jenna you guys were the best! Will never forget our “office” located in the living room of the lofts. Allison was the king of the cold call and Sarah was the genius behind our logo!
It’s hard to even describe how great you both were through this whole process. From supporting us while everyone else still thought we were crazy, to spending hours talking to us on speaker phone (and of course Sandy’s classic reaction to when we thought we finalized our lease) we cannot thank you enough for all the time, love, and especially the trust you had in us from the start. Thanks for always being there for support and guidance, we cannot even begin to show our appreciation.
Mom, Dad, Kristi, Ali and Hoopie. Thanks for everything. I know you probably thought I was crazy when I first told you the idea but you guys never flinched and trusted us. One of the best memories was thanksgiving when Shaan and Dan came up to Lander. It was an absolute blast. My only regret is that none of you got to try our sushi! -Trev
As Indian parents that let your kid ditch med-school to pursue a Sushi Restaurant, I’m not sure if you should be arrested or given a trophy. Either way, things worked out for the best, as hopefully you can see those lessons translating into success working together here at Mitchell! Thanks for all the advice, on how to deal with negotiations, troubles with business partners, and everything else. I’ll always appreciate the way you guys supported us through the ups and downs. As a kid, I’m proud of you parents for the way you handled the situation!
One of the hardest working, most caring people we have ever met. Hess took us under his wing in LA and showed us the tricks of the trade. You’re one of the most stand-up guys we’ve ever encountered, and you have no idea how much we want life to give you a damn break!
Pound for pound one of the most talented & charismatic sushi chefs in the world. Dino can do it all. If you’re ever in LA and want the dining experience of your life check out www.feastialityla.com, trust me. Every morning at Sabi I tried to bring the light hearted style of Dino to the kitchen because the attitude is infectious – thanks for the lessons, and thanks for covering my ass whenever I f’d up at Sushi Central (paging Dr. Severino!!)
She welcomed each one of us into her home when we were out in LA training with Phillip. She took time to sit down and go over the “nuts and bolts” of the restaurant industry with us.
One of the first people to really believe in us. Issabelle let us live with her in Chicago while we were on our location hunt and even had the guts to move out to Boulder to help us get Sabi off the ground. We’ll always appreciate your steadfast belief, and of course, the crucial role you played in The Duel.
Patti was our mother figure for 3-4 months when we first got to Colorado and needed a place to stay. She’s by far one of the best cooks around and also has a pretty amazing business of her own Colorado Lights
The man who taught us What Big Brands Know! If ideas are contagious, then a simple lunch with Gerry is a rare strain of swine flu. Alright that was a bit strange, but the bottom line is that we appreciate you taking the time to drop some wisdom on us – and the fact that you had a genuine belief in us.
The Queen of Food. You have no idea how many whiteboard brainstorms each of your comments inspired. You pushed us to get to the bottom of why our motto was Do What You Do – empowering others. That motto lives on past Sabi, and so does your impact on us.
One of the most talented people any of us are likely to meet. His designs for the Sabi restaurant were seriously unreal and he made them while writing a book, teaching at Harvard and getting recruited to move to Europe to join the most famous design company in the world, no big deal really. Stephen, not only do we thank you for your incredible efforts in designing the restaurant – but for giving us the chance to look into the mind of a true genius.
Board of Advisors
Marc, Lisa, George, Michael, Howie and Jim. Seriously, thank you so much. Having you guys in our corner made us feel invincible. Knowing that you were always an email or phone call away was a huge comfort to us.
The man responsible for our first exposure to entrepreneurship. Without those incredible early conversations, who knows which path we would be on! I have a ton of respect for someone who has devoted their talents and efforts to helping my generation realize that we’re truly the first great creative generation. Looking forward to the book!!
We only got to work with you guys for a few months, but it was awesome! Loved having you guys into the “office.” Thank you so much for all of the work you guys did. If you ever need anything please let us know!
One of the sharpest dudes we met along the way. We should just make a category called FBP (Future Business Partners), and have Jason be the chairman of the committee. Just a couple of conversations over beers and I walked away with several ideas for sabi, but more importantly the realization that I should never bet against anything Jason is working on. Much love to the whole LoveGrown crew, you guys are the awesome and make some delicious f*cking granola
Nobody showed us more love than you! Thank you so much for being one of our most loyal supporters. It’s people like you who made this journey worth it for us.
Sydney, Kristen, Jesse, Karla and Gina
First, you guys are a buncha drunks. Second, you’re the best group of friends we could of ever asked for. The year we had in Boulder with you guys will go down as one of the most fun and memorable experiences we’ve had. We love you guys and can’t wait for the Jagaloon Reunion!
How Do You Roll
You’re one of the most talented people around. Watching you do what you do was an inspiration to all of us. The Einstein Mural will still go down as one of the most amazing things we’ve ever seen.
Fashion Show Models
The Flash Fashion show was the best! The models were too good! Thanks for trusting us and having the guts to pull this stunt off! Sorry Cee Lo Green is such a Sensitive Sally and keeps taking down the video for copyright infringement!
You gave us our first lesson in PR. Ask and ye shall receive! Being featured on CNN went a long way for us, and we thank you for giving us the opportunity. More than that, you’ve stayed connected from afar, and always had kind words to say about our team. You’re a good dude Steve.
Charles is the owner of one of the biggest contracting companies in Denver. He was unbelievably helpful and was there at the touch of the button to answer our 839,393 questions. We would have loved working with his firm and would recommend him to anyone. An unbelievable guy and a great company, wish we had the opportunity to build a restaurant with you, Charles.
One of the most knowledgeable and helpful people we worked with. You’re great at what you do and were always a phone call away. Our only regret is not getting to complete a project with you. Thank you so much for everything, you’re a great person.
Max you’re a great guy and we enjoyed every 3hr car ride with you (even the one Trevor passed out in). We’re sorry we couldn’t roll out 3000 stores together, but keep hustling my man because that’s what made us believe in you over everyone else.
The man who saved Sabi Sushi. You have no idea how much we respect the way you think and approach business. You kept it real with us when everybody else bought our bullshit. That saved our ass – and we owe you one for it. Hopefully we will be doing business together down the track.
You could’ve retired just as the guy who overheard our story on the plane, but then you started opening doors and writing articles for us. Thanks for your support Lou!
The Kitchen Crew
Mama Yo’ and gang. Unbelievably how great you were to us. There was really no reason for you to be so nice to us but you have no idea how grateful we were. You had our back and were the best chef we’ve ever met! “Its good for the kids its good for the pets!”
James! We’ll never meet anyone that’s as positive about life as you. Sorry things didn’t work out as planned. Can’t wait till Players is out. Best of luck with everything, man.
You were one of the original supporters, and probably one of the only people to have the patience too edit all of hour typo’s. Thanks for being there to lend a hand when we needed it, whether it was making connections for us on your flight to Denver or helping wash dishes after tastings. You had the insider’s look on the life of Sabi, and we just wanted to thank you for being there to experience it with us.
My girl! You played the critical role in keeping me sane during the madness. In desperate times, you came through with much needed KT. I don’t think I would’ve had nearly as much fun if I didn’t know that I’d have you to laugh with at the end of the night. Couldn’t have asked for a more positive or understanding person to have around during the ups and downs. The things I wouldn’t give for one more Melting Pot !
Frank, you saved our ass. We were a week from opening the world’s first online restaurant, and didn’t have a website. There are no words to express how grateful we are for what you did. As expected, we’re already onto the next one baby..
You’re a beast of a man and your new mission is inspiring. Thanks for providing the nitro-boost of energy and passion to Sabi when we needed it the most. We’re lifelong partners in the most non-gabe way possible. AlI can say about our time at Sabi is…I hope that was as good for you as it was for us.
Jen has been a part of team Sabi since day 1. At Duke she was the one staying at the warehouse till 3am to make sure the posters were printed. She did all of the photography for the website and the menu. For the last 4 months she lived out in Denver with us and lived the Sabi life 24/7. She worked countless hours in the kitchen keeping things organized and would stay up all night with the team during our brainstorms. Jen, you were one of our biggest supporters and what you did for us was absolutely amazing. We will never be able to thank you enough.
Well, guys. This is it. The final post. The final shoutout to Sabi Nation. Thank you for all the support and encouragement. Don’t worry this isn’t the last time you’ll hear from us, we already have some knew ideas in the pipeline ;). You guys are the best!
-Trev, Shaan and Dan
Memories and the previously unreleased Sabi designs by Stephen Clipp