The Tampa Bay area has no shortage of great sushi restaurants. From traditional Japanese-owned sushi bars to contemporary places serving American rolls, foodies have it all to choose from here in the Bay.
One of the most striking Sushi joints – at least aesthetically – is Yo! Sushi!, a branch of which is located at International Plaza in Tampa.
While it may seem like Yo! Sushi! is the outlier for serving fish using a conveyor belt, they are actually tapping into a craze that had a meteoric rise in Japan thanks in part to one eccentric and audacious man.
The Man and the Idea
In the mid 1950s, Yoshiaki Shiraishi had a brainwave while visiting a brewery. During his trip to the massive Asahi brewery works, Shiraishi saw bottles being smoothly transported around the plant by a moving conveyor belt system. Workers would stand in place, and the bottles would come to them for filling, capping and labeling. The functions of a conveyor system company were being employed to speed up production in the brewery, which was as a result hugely successful.
Shiraishi was having trouble adequately staffing a sushi restaurant at the time, and put two and two together: He would use conveyor belts to serve his food to customers! Kaiten-zushi (literally ‘rotation sushi’) had been born.
Putting the Idea into Practice
Yoshiaki didn’t just rush in. He spent five years developing a system that would be satisfying to customers and simple to operate by food service staff. His pioneering kaiten-zushi bar Mawaru Genroku Sushi opened in 1958 in Osaka. It was a massive hit almost immediately, and the inventor-cum-restaurant owner soon had to install a more extensive conveyor belt and new tables that could accommodate groups as well as lone bar-goers. The first kaiten-zushi restaurant is still open in Fuse, Osaka.
Exposure at the Exposition
Conveyor belt sushi was successful locally from 1958, but it was not popular outside of Osaka until the 1970s. Conveyor belt sushi was given a massive boost in popularity by the Osaka World Expo. Shiraishi opened a sushi bar at the expo that was extremely well-attended and garnered a great deal of press around Japan. Before long, the whole country was going conveyor belt mad. Shiraishi became a sushi mogul – owning 240 sushi bars all over Japan at the peak of his success.
International Sushi Conveyance
After Japan’s economic growth bubble burst in the 1990s, fast, affordable food became even more popular in the country. By this time, Japanese food was extremely fashionable in the West. The reinvigoration of the conveyor belt sushi industry during the downturn of the 1990s subsequently spread abroad, with conveyor restaurants opening all over North America, Asia and Europe. Sushi isn’t the only dish served on conveyor systems. Everything from cheese to Korean hot pot has been conveyed to customers on moving belts weaving around the tables of restaurants. Kaiten-zushi bars often incorporate modern technology. Touch screen ‘aquariums’ are sometimes used by customers to select the fish they want to eat.