How We Met Our Chef – Part I – “Being a Stalker Saved Sabi Sushi”

Posted: July 26, 2010 in The Sabi Story
Tags: , , , , ,

We started with good intentions, I promise.

Trev and I were sitting in our apartment, fresh off of deciding to skip class for no good reason. To keep with the trend of uselessness, we flipped around in our Tivo Suggestions menu to see what our little black box thought we might like. In between a Spanish soap opera (Los dias de nos Vidas!) and a Sports Center re-run was a Food Network show called “Throwdown! With Bobby Flay”. I had never seen the show before, but the host (Bobby Flay) travels around the country challenging premier chef’s in their specialty cuisine. Once I realized that man’s best friend (Tivo) had suggested a Sushi Throwdown, I felt the wheels of fate turning. We laid back and watched Bobby challenge a Sushi Chef named Phillip Yi from an obscure restaurant called Sushi Central out in L.A.

The idea of Sabi had been floating around for a few months already, but it wasn’t “real” yet.

We had been searching locally for a chef, interviewing the top chefs in the Raleigh-Durham area (ie. the cream of the crap) and had found either traditional chefs with no imagination, or greedy chefs, ready to sell out and sacrifice quality at the prospects of our national chain. The process was getting frustrating, so it was refreshing to see a funny, passionate chef like Phillip on TV.

Phillip’s behavior reminded us of ourselves: confident and borderline cocky, unfazed by the famous Bobby Flay, he subtly mocked Bobby’s sushi sauces (“Mmm that will taste great…on chicken”) and interacted with the customers rather than preening for the cameras to seize his fifteen minutes of fame.

Most importantly, instead of playing up the mystique of a Sushi Chef, he taught the customers about the flavors and fish, methods of eating, and in the end won the crowd over by making sushi simple, accessible, and delicious. We later found out that he did the entire show against doctors orders with a broken wrist. They cut off his cast so he could roll just before the camera’s started recording, making Phillip Yi the Kerri Strug of Sushi ).

By the end of the show, I looked at Trev:

Shaan: “We need someone like that.”

Before I could even explain why, Trev swivled his computer around and I saw that he had already been asking Jeeves (just kidding, he Googled it…)

“Phillip Yi phone number L.A.”

Moments like this are what Sabi is all about.

You see, after being randomly assigned Trevor as a roommate freshman year, we kept the living arrangement for 4 straight years.  It wasn’t always easy…Trev had a legendary stint sleeping in the dining room in Australia, and spent his  senior year tenure living in my walk-in closet. Even Anne Frank tipped her hat to him after those efforts.

Now, you know how hostages lose track of time and reality and get Stockholm Syndrome after being captive for days on end? Well the same thing happens after you live with someone for four years and on two different continents.  So when Trevor proudly showed his Google-Stalking of a Food Network Chef 3000 miles across the country, I found it perfectly normal.

I nodded reassuringly at him as if this action wouldn’t result in a restraining order, so he picked up the phone and started dialing.

Now we’ve cold-called people before. If you do it enough times, you become numb to the process. At first it was exciting to try to contact the heads of Chipotle, Subway, Starbucks etc…but 99% of the time you just get the run-around. By now, I’ve got “On Hold” and “Thanks I’ll try back later” in my Fave Five.

I sat up in my chair a bit as I heard:

Trev: “I need to talk to Phillip Yi…how do I make that happen?”

But I didn’t sit up until I heard a familiar voice on the other end,

“This is Phil. Talk to me”.

Trevor froze. Eyes blazing with excitement. Sabi Sushi just became very real.  (Don’t even blink, Part II is coming on Weds..)


  1. […] How Being a Stalker Saved Sabi Sushi (Part I) […]

  2. […] How Being a Stalker Saved Sabi Sushi (Part I) […]

  3. Tracy says:

    You guys crack me up

  4. […] like this? We’ve blogged about hitting rock bottom (still my favorite post), revealed how we stalked our most important business partner, or about learning life lessons from the Jersey Shore (coming […]

  5. […] founders our whole lives, be it on stage, on the court, or in the conference room. From the day we found our chef on TV, to the list of crazy events we’ve been through this past year – our “company […]

  6. […] in order to be ready for our launch, I just thought for a bit. Thought about how this all started (trying sushi for the first time 2 years ago, and falling in love with it), about when it first started to become real (winning the […]

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