Bold Growth: Sam Peterson '93 on Sustainable Sushi
What: A Japanese sushi restaurant in South Minneapolis.
Why it's Unique: Serves only sustainability caught seafood. Also, this is not westernized sushi, but sushi as Japanese would expect to eat it.
Weird Menu Item: Hot dogs with a Japanese twist. Named the best hot dogs in Minnesota by People magazine.
Of Special Note: To our knowledge, this is the only sushi restaurant in the Twin Cities offering traditional pressed sushi (Oshizushi - see photo above).
The Moral Dilemma
When Sam Peterson '93 and sister Sara '96 decided to partner with chef Hide Tozawa to open a truly Japanese, unwesternized sushi restaurant they faced a moral dilemma.
More than 3 billion people across the globe rely on seafood for essential nutrition. Nearly one third of that seafood is at risk of disappearing before this generation of children reaches their forties.
Why? Companies harvest from these fish populations faster than the fish can reproduce. At the same time, many popular fishing methods destroy the ecosystems necessary for a thriving, reproducing marine population.
The team at Kyatchi (which means "catch" in Japanese)wanted to create a distinctive yet accessible sushi experience, but they didn't want to contribute to a very real problem.
"Sushi is big business," acknowledges Peterson. "For the last fifteen to twenty years, it's been increasing in popularity exponentially." This increase in demand means suppliers are more willing to hedge their bets, using questionable and even illegal fishing methods.
And so Peterson embarked on a journey with two goals: To ensure that his team purchased sustainably caught fish, and to provide diners with a real Japanese dining experience.
A Tangled Line
Untangling the line from ocean to table proved to be more complicated than anticipated. It turns out that even in the world of sustainable fish there are fakes.
"You can't just take the distributor's word for it. Once the fish is caught and packaged or frozen you have no idea what was caught or where it was caught," says Peterson.
You can't just take the distributor's word for it. Once the fish is caught and packaged or frozen you have no idea what was caught or where it was caught.
Technically, Peterson could have chosen to just trust the suppliers and sourced cheaper "sustainable" options. But that didn't line up with his or the team's. They would never feel certain from day to day whether their dollars were going to nurture or damage the sea populations they rely on.
So they kept digging for answers until they found a solution: trackable seafood.
"We only use suppliers that have a tracking system in place. Part of the system is knowing where the fish was caught, when the fish was caught, even down to details like the name of the boat and the captain surfing for fish," says Peterson.
For him, this peace of mind is worth the cost.
"I want my son and his kids to be able to enjoy sushi decades into the future," he says. "I think often the careers that people commit themselves to don't do anything to feed their spiritual needs and it causes a lot of career burnout. But as a business owner I am able to incorporate some spiritual aspects into my business model which can contribute to my spiritual health and the spiritual health of my employees."
Here's another of Peterson's values: Ensuring his employees receive a livable wage. Even before Minneapolis adopted the $15 minimum wage, Sam sat down with his books and worked over the numbers until he figured out how to make it work for his employees and his business, which led to a request that he serve on Saint Paul's Minimum Wage Committee.
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