Posts Tagged ‘sushi’

The Final Chapter

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

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.


What Happened?

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.

The Menu!

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.


Lessons learned:

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…

Phillip Yi

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.

Lisa Keister

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 Rhee

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.

Laura Hall

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.

Vandana Dake

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.

Duke Basketball

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;)

Duke interns

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!

The Certner’s

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.

The Ragan’s

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

The Puri’s

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, 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.

Issabelle Wong

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

Gerry O’Brien 

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.

Cathyrn O. 

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.

Stephen Clipp

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.

Carl Nordgren

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!!

Boulder interns

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!

Jason Lundberg

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 

Suzanne Goodspeed
The shark! Without you we would’ve been ripped to shreds in our negotiations. You and Nate are an amazing team, and we’re proud to have worked with you before you blow up into the biggest law firm west of the Mississippi.
Mr. Test! You were the voice of reason in many of our greatest Sabi debates. So glad we got to share the experience with you and hope that it was as fruitful for you as it was for us.
The best rapper you’ve never heard of.  And a new dad! My man is on a roll. You’re an ambassador of Do What You Do. We’re huge fans of you and will continue to help your drive to the top.
Or should we say – the highest paid employee in the history of Sabi Sushi! You learned fast, and clicked with the team immediately. Not only did you learn how to roll in a matter of days, but you became an expert at making fun of Dan in record speed. You’re part of SabiNation for life!
Val was our our Sysco Foods Rep (where we got our ingredients) and was a huge help to Sabi ever since we got to Boulder. Thanks for always letting us use the test kitchen on last minute notice, or dealing patiently with Dan as he called frantically for last minute fish prices!
Lori Carlson

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.
Steve Bathgate
A legend! One of the more enjoyable meetings we ever had during our time at Sabi. He heard our story, opened doors, and had genuine belief in us. That’s all you can ask for out of any mentor. Steve has a great knack for cutting to the heart of any complicated project…after taking a glance at our multi-spreadsheet financial model, he simply said “You can only win in this business if you can drive revenue” and he took one look at us as people, not the assumptions on the spreadsheet before saying “and these boys can drive revenue!” That’s a business lesson we’ll never forget!
Thanks SO much for moving out to Boulder JUST for us. That was so nice of you! You even found Shaan a girlfriend! In 20 years when we look back, I’m confident that we’ll look back on those short months in Boulder as some of the most random but fun times of our lives.

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


Armando Silva

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!

Steve Mnich

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 Jordy

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.

John Sponsellor

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 Jacobson

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.

John Prendergast

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 Evans

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 LoVecchio

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..

Sam Solie

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 Kozin

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.

You Guys

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

The Original Website Design


Boxed Sushi, a tragedy on par with Kony

The 1st Roll Ever

Sabi Sushi Board Meeting

Ken Lazard – the original sabi hater. Hey Ken, maybe you were right after all…or maybe you’re a giant douche bag.

NCAA Champs

Our hype crew. Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler.

Stephen Clipp’s designs

pretty simple ey


Sabi Tastings.. We do it live!

What the website would’ve been

You may notice us rockin the DWYD Wristbands…if you want one, say the word

Armando – do what you do

Phillip after killing Bobby Flay

got to meet Arnold during the trip to China

The Fam


Sabi Makes The Examiner!

Posted: September 20, 2011 in Uncategorized
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this is why we do what we do

Posted: September 16, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

the video blog

Posted: September 14, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

trying out a new style for future video blogs…whaddya  think?


“I am the greatest… I said that even before I knew I was.” – Muhammad Ali


Those of you who’ve been following the Sabi story know how crazy our new idea has been.  Those of you who’ve really been listening know that we conceived the idea for the “Restaurant, without a Restaurant” just one month ago. On that day, we looked at all the steps needed to launch and couldn’t see a major holdup. That’s why we decided, “we’re launching in a month. September 1st. No excuses”.

You see, there’s a theory called Parkinson’s law, which states that:

“work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”

Now there’s a reason all procrastinator’s out there are shaking their head. They know this law is true. There’s a reason we pull all-nighters on projects that we’ve had assigned to us for months. There’s a reason we’re watching Youtube videos about kids babbling after a trip to the dentist rather than starting on that term paper. For most of us, work won’t get done until the last possible moment that it could’ve gotten done.

From there on out, we hustled, got our kitchen space secured, bought equipment at restaurant going-out-of-business-sales, and worked on our operations work-flow. As we knocked out item after item on our to-do list – licenses, hiring, uniforms, marketing… thing remained.


This wasn’t a trivial task either. With the “restaurant without a restaurant” our entire storefront was online. No website meant no orders. No orders meant no business. We actually neared one week until launch…this was becoming a problem. And that my friends, is when we met the man, the myth, the legend: Frank LoVecchio.

Let me paint you a picture. Standing 6’1″, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Tom Brady, Frank LoVecchio is programming’s answer to Bobby Fischer.

We met Frank in typical Sabi dumb luck. We were doing sushi tastings on in downtown Denver leading up to our launch and invited our interns to our first tasting. Claire, one of our awesome interns from Boulder asked if she could bring some friends. Those friends were not our target customer, college-aged, Boulder residents, whereas we were targeting professionals in downtown Denver. Now when most start-ups would be trying to conserve money, or just being smart and inviting only potential customers to their pre-launch buildup….we just said yes! It sounded like a fun group, so we had no problem giving away ~$100 of free sushi to them.

The tasting went great (video here), and after 2.5 hrs of eating, drinking, and getting to know each other – the question was asked: “wait so you guys were launching in a week (yes)?? are you ready (no)?!? do you have the website made yet (not even close)???” . This is right about when we realized this is a problem. You see, Trevor had designed the site on Photoshop, but apparently there’s a difference between a picture and a website.  That’s when Frank revealed himself to be more than a sushi eating connoisseur. He gave us a smooth “send me what you want in an email, I’ll try to hammer it out this weekend.”

This weekend…this weekend!? We had taken this project to larger web development firms and they had estimated that it’d take 2-3 months at the minimum, and would cost us about $50-75k. We couldn’t afford it, and the timeline didn’t fit. As we often say in the house – “no time for haters! we launch in 3 days!” and we kept chugging along. So we sent him an email of what we wanted, and the weekend went by with only cryptic tweets like this:

Judging by the fact that we didn’t understand 11 out of the 20 words in the tweet, things were looking optimistic.

The weekend went by and Frank gave us a little email “hey. lets meet up tonight, I want to go over a few things with the site.” We were now 2 days away from launching, and I had a knot in my stomach. There’s no way that he could build a site like this in one weekend..

We arrived at the Rock Bottom Brewery and after a few awkward minutes of small talk foreplay for the website showcase, he finally whipped it (laptop) out. At first, his desktop looked like any other, a random picture with a few icons scattered across it. Then he hit some combination of keys I must’ve never thought to combine, because his computer reacted with a huge flood of code that was described by Trevor as: “it looked like the matrix took a shit on his screen”.

He continued to tap away and showed us the site. First, it was beautiful. Trevor’s picture design from Photoshop had been translated perfectly to CSS styling code, and the click-to-order system was simple and elegant (coincidently, elegant simplicity is the English translation of Sabi). He then explained what he had done. Creating a customer history database that automatically recognizes returning customers, an email notification system, a queuing interface for our kitchen, and all the goods. I felt like Xhibit was going to come around the corner and notify me that MTV just pimped our website. There were still minor issues (I’m sure Frank would love to talk to you about how much he enjoys the fact that Internet Explorer is too dumb to understand his web dev. genius, so view the site on firefox/safari/chrome ..or really anything except Internet Explorer).


All we were asking for was a resizable picture on the web that would allow people to see the menu, then call in and order. Now we had a powerful interface with information storage capabilities that would allow us to do some really innovative things with customer service and loyalty programs.

We couldn’t believe it. No exaggeration, I looked at Trevor halfway through the meeting and saw that he was having just as much trouble with the pollen in the bar as his eyes filled with water…This guy had not only saved our ass by putting up the website just in the nick of time to make our arbitrary, yet important, Sept 1st deadline…but he did things that we didn’t plan on having until 6-8 months down the road. This gave us an edge, this gave us a chance to blow people away. AND he did the whole thing for free. Jesus Christ, even now, it takes me back.

More importantly, he’s a part of the team. We know that individually, we’re not the smartest. Definitely not the most experienced. Even in the areas that we pride ourselves on, creativity and hard work – there are people out there who are better than us. BUT the one thing we have is that we really…REALLY care about what we’re doing. That’s when you power through fatigue or boredom to get the minor details right, when you care. And they say greatness is just a bunch of really small things done right. That’s the kind of greatness that Frank showed last week. He could’ve easily (and understandably) just done the bare minimum to help us out.

Instead, he attacked the project as if it were his own life depending on it, not ours. He brought his skillset and creativity to the challenge and learned a whole new toolkit while doing the project (just for personal learning). He killed himself to get it all done in a weekend, and put up with our bullshit minor changes of typos etc.. knowing that we needed it to be perfect for Sabi.

What the hell makes a guy do something so amazing for people he hardly knows and for no monetary compensation? Honestly, I have no idea, but what I do know is Frank L. is a special person and what he did saved our asses more than he will ever know (well, he probably knows because he’s so damn smart).

What he did is the perfect example of the do what you do mentality that we’ve been preaching for the past year. He took a project that 98% of the people in the world would have turned down because there was really nothing in it for them, and put everything he had into it, and by doing so he created the foundation for something that could change the whole restaurant industry.  His hard work gave us the chance to do what we do.

It’s funny how it turns out when you fixate your mind on a goal and don’t let yourself consider not living up to your word. That’s why I put the Ali quote at the top, he was the greatest boxer of all time, and said that he was before he even knew it. Sometimes conviction is all that you need, and the world will put the right special people in your life to help you on that path.

Whether its Sabi, helping you build your house, or the new start-up that we already have cooking – we’ll be working together for a looong time. Honestly I could go on and on forever about Frank, but I’ll spare you. Thank you Frank, and as always do what you do.
– the men of Sabi.

what the hell is going on with Sabi Sushi?

part. II – The Pivot

(if you missed part one, The Location Hunt catch-up here)

I couldn’t help but laugh. Not a “hahaha- you’re so witty!” laugh. It was a “hahaha- are you serious? I just spent the last year believing steadfastly in something, and you just made me go back and question everything….asshole!” – you know, one of those laughs.

The Pivot came during our last day at the Mass Challenge. For those of you who haven’t heard, it’s the largest start-up competition in the world, with over $1,000,000 in prize money, and a 3-month accelerator program in downtown Boston for its 125-Finalists (which Sabi is one of….nobigdeal.)

On our last day in Boston, we reached out to a mentor on the list named John P., founder of BlueLeaf, and to our surprise, one of the original franchisees of Boston Market (formerly Boston Chicken). He sat us down in his ultra modern, inside-of-an-ipod designed office.

We walked in, expecting to shake hands, trade business cards – hear him drop a few big names and thank him for his time. Instead, he flipped through our business plan (the one that’s won us over $25,000, and entrance into this prestigious Mass Challenge) and jotted down a few notes. Now most people would hesitate to be brutally honest, especially considering that we just met, but John immediately began to rip us into shreds….(this is what makes John awesome, he’ll support you, but will do so as a straight-shooter). (UPDATE: John’s response to this blog)

We had the following verbal joust:

John P. – I love your concept, obviously, that’s why I took this meeting…I do think there’s a huge need for great sushi, and more accessible through your style, price, speed…but I don’t think you’re going about this the right way. 

Shaan/Dan – (zoning out, ready to hear another person talk generically about how 90% of restaurants fail)

John P – Let me ask you this. How much does it take to open a location?

Shaan – About $400k to be safe

John P – And how long is the lease?

Shaan – 10 years..

John P – How long does it take to find a location…6 months? And then to build/design it – another 5-6 months?

Shaan – (nodding, grimly)

John P – So lets say you sign this lease tomorrow. You put in $400,000 to build it, it takes 6 months to open, you’re on the hook for 10 years…and the landlord’s asking for a $100,000 security deposit? And assuming that goes well, it’ll take another year or so to get the 2nd location, and you’ll have to go raise another half a million dollars to pay for it…

Shaan – (nodding, and quickly becoming nauseated)

John – so from the start, commitment is pretty heavy…How many customers do you have on board so far? Have you tested the concept…at all?

Shaan – Well its hard to test the restaurant…without the restaurant!

John – That’s what I thought to myself before you guys came in. I’ve owned restaurants before. And well: everything’s great about owning a restaurant…except the f*%&ing restaurant! So listen to this idea, and tell me what you think…

That’s when he outlined the idea. A radical one. An idea so strange that he left me (someone who talks so much that he’s on pace for an arthiritic jaw by the age of 28) – speechless, with no rebuttal.

The Idea: (well…the most basic, simple version of the idea)

– Who – take a highly dense urban area of young professionals

– What – deliver them awesome sushi. Deliver it in a way that makes them understand that you’re changing the game of delivery. Deliver food created by a tremendous sushi chef. Deliver on time. Deliver for free. Deliver in packaging that looks like it was designed by Apple (N.M.S. – No More Styrofoam).  Don’t just deliver food, deliver happiness.

– When – stop waiting on external factors. Rent a commercial kitchen. Get a business license. Set a launch date (1 month from the moment we heard the idea).

– Where – Downtown Denver

Why – Focus on our strengths – great food, hustle, creative marketing, and again, great food. Think about what Food Trucks (a restaurant, on wheels) has done so successfully. We will be the next step in the evolution of the industry (a restaurant, online).

– How – Rent a commercial kitchen 1mi from the heart of downtown Denver. Get initial customers through Sabi Sushi VIP tastings, and just meeting people, telling them our story, and letting them try our food. We also had to change the mechanics behind our delivery model (sorry, that’s our secret) to make sure that all the orders are fresh, accurate, and on time.


…so that’s it? Delivery sushi…?  No….it’s The Restaurant Without a Restaurant. We’re taking the entire restaurant experience: ordering, service, food, and packaging – and doing it our way. What does that mean? It means its going to be bold, its going to be creative, and its going to be better than its been done before.

which leave us with one last bullet point:

The Long-Term Dream – With this model, we can quickly/cheaply test new markets, and grow the company organically. We want to be an example for who may not be the most marketing/design savvy, or be the best at managing a restaurant – focus on making great food. We can plug them into our business model, host them on our smooth website, deliver their food in our efficient system, and let them focus on making killer dishes. Do what you do – at its best.

Will it work? Will people be too sketched out by the thought of sushi being delivered to them? Honestly…I have no idea.

What I do know is that we’re off to a great start. We’ve got promising relationships with the Colorado Athletic Club and the Westin Hotel downtown. Everyone that’s tasted our food has loved it (although people generally enjoy all types of free food).

Seeing people’s reactions to the website (currently under dev. thanks to my man Frank L and ongoing support from our guy at Duke – Siyaun T.) and the food so far have me believing that this is really going to be huge. The point is, it doesn’t matter what I think is going to happen…I’m just happy its happening. In fact, its happening in 3 days. That’s right, we’re launching Sept 1st. We’ve already been doing private menu tastings (see vid below) to get feedback and our name out there. We’re starting small at first, just targeting one ‘hotspot’ for a few buildings downtown, but soon we’ll be doing it big. That’s where we’ll end the : “what the hell’s going on with Sabi Sushi” series with part III – The Launch . No promises on when I’ll get that blog up, this next week’s looking a little busy…

With an idea that’s so disruptive to an industry as this is – it’s either going to explode, or completely fizzle out, rarely do game-changing ideas fall into mediocrity. Which is good, because mediocrity is a place that you’ll never find Sabi Sushi.


In case you missed #150-51, or the top 50 :

As you can tell, the year’s been crazy. We’ve had several successes, failures, and most importantly – some life changing adventures. You’ll notice that “opened our first restaurant” isn’t on the list…and trust me, we’re working hard everyday to make that happen – but I wouldn’t trade any of the things on this list for that to happen. Each of these situations has shaped us, taught us, and provided us with life experiences. At the end of the day that’s what Sabi’s about – it’s more than a restaurant, its an experience.

Without further ado – the TOP 10:

10. Yea…this is a repeat – but did i mention that we’re IN A RAP SONG!

9. Traded restaurant theories with the #2 guy in Chipotle.

8. Realized that resilience, not intelligence, is the key to being an entrepreneur.

7. Traveled to Atlanta, Vegas, NYC, Austin and China for free in the name of business

6. Watched a genius at work designing the restaurant

5. Found our first do what you do’er

4. Learned a lot.

3. Realized we have a lot more to learn.

2. Had life changing conversations with Chef Phillip Yi at our L.A. Bootcamp

1. ________________  (Reserved for “opened the restaurant.”)

Thanks for reading guys! It’s been a crazy year – your support is what gets us through the ups and downs!

the men of sabi