Skip to comments.Nothing Fishy About It: Gas Station Sushi Thatís Also Gourmet
Posted on 03/28/2013 10:57:53 AM PDT by nickcarraway
The idea of gas station sushi might conjure images of raw fish sitting out for hours, and rice that has turned crispy and hard. The thought is so shudder-inducing, the insurance company, Esurance, made a commercial comparing raw fish bought by the pump to sketchy auto insurance. We all make bad decisions, the voiceover for that commercial goes, like, say, gas station sushi. Cheap is good, and sushi good, but cheap sushinot so good.
The upshot is that a gas station is an unlikely place to find sushi thats safe to eat, let alone tasty. But thats exactly what is for sale inside Lees Fresh Sushi & Deli. The BP gas station at corner of Poplar and Ridgeway avenues is known in Memphis as the sushi gas station.
According to manager Jung Jin JJ Lee, the pick-up-and-go sushi is made fresh everday at the gas stations small deli counter. One of the reasons Lees sushi tastes good is he gets his ingredients from the same place that local restaurants do. Its not like we have any oceans, or lakes, or rivers where we could can catch tuna and then cut it up ourselves. So, we all have to get the ingredient from the same vendors, Lee explained. You know, we still have a health department testing like every other restaurant.
In 2002, Lees family bought the gas station, located next to the Shea Ear Clinic, from Dr. John Shea, Jr. The family had seen pick-up-and-go sushi fly off shelves in Detroit. If the concept didnt work at their gas station in Memphis, they planned to try another food. They never had to. Sushi is a top seller. The store sells 200 to 300 boxes daily.
The gas station also provides sushi for the cafeterias at the Nike distribution centers in Memphis, and several catering companies, including Fork in the Road, and Hog Wilds A Moveable Feast. A few years ago, the gas station was featured in Gourmet magazine.
Even so, most of their sushi business comes from word of mouth. Elizabeth Saxton works nearby and is a regular customer. She recommends Lees to her friends.
This is the only sushi Ive ever had from a gas station, but Im often telling people that they should try it and not be afraid, or think that it would not be good just because it is from a gas station, Saxton said.
Although their sushi is popular, Lee hasnt considered a separate restaurant. Lee estimates the sushi grosses more than $8,000 dollars a week, without the additional overhead expenses. Within the store, only one product outsells sushi in volume.
If you talk about inside sales, I would have to say cigarettes, Lee said. If it goes down to food, it would be sushi, beer, and then candy.
With such a successful product, it was surprising to find out the sushi chef for the past three years, Ace Hodge, is allergic to shellfish. He cannot taste the ingredients, and the food sometimes irritates him through the safety gloves.
Crawfish is the only one that actually feels like acid on my hands, Hodge said. The rest of them are a little mild. I guess you could say I know how to make it and what tastes good just by the way it smells, and customers reactions.
One thing Lees customers have been reacting to recently is the Esurance commercial denigrating gas station sushi. The company and Lee have spoken on the phone, Matter of fact, I was contacted by Esurance, Lee said. Saying that it [the commercial] wasnt, it wasnt directly to you. He actually didnt know there was such a thing.
I was on business in Memphis about 10 years ago. The people at the bank where I was working told us about this place. They said it was the best place in town to get sushi. I didn’t go because I am not much of a sushi fan.
There’s a Cenex gas station at the corner of Hwy 54 and Hwy 95 in Athol, ID that serves up some pretty decent teriyaki. Nice Koeran family. We always joke about getting some gas station teri when we’re too tired to cook.
I used to get sushi at a place that smelled like the inside of a fish truck with a broken refrigerator in the middle of the Mojave desert. Horrible smell, great sushi. You just had to get inside the door and get used to the smell.
The incredulous look on the gas station attendant's face when the guy buys the sushi is priceless.
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