“We are riding the wave”. There are some unexpected winners in this crisis.
In the 2011 documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, the film follows the masterful Jiro Ono, a bona fide master in the art of sushi making.
Since his Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant opened its doors in the sixties, it has earned much praise, as well as Michelin stars, for his world-renowned perfection of the delicacy.
But a lot has changed since. The nonagenarian, who still serves with his elder son Yoshikazu Ono, has lived through two huge developments. The global popularity of sushi and also the impact of of COVID-19 on the restaurant industry. The robotisation of his craft – which has crossed both worlds – is sure to raise his eyebrows too.
European leader in the field of sushi machines
SalmonBusiness spoke to the COO Sushi Robots Alice Touchais, who said their order books have been off the scales since the crisis started.
Common in Japan but rare for the USA, sushi-making robots have been freeing up acclaimed chefs to deliver meals to hospitals in locked down New York, as reported in NBC.
Touchais, whose company sells in the EU, said that it was hard for sushi making companies to put in measures for social distancing, so “we’ve been inundated.”
The France-based business was started by chef Emmanuel Letellie who spent years in Japan as well as in London. Perfecting his own craft, it was during those years, he came up the idea to equip restaurateurs with machines from Japan and help in the production.
“It’s been a good situation for us, and we are happy to respond to the demand our our clients,” she said.
“We are a success story,” she said. “We started five years ago, little by little we became the European leader – we grew quite quick. We follow the client from the beginning of the project to the end. Our technicians respond 24 hours, 7 days a week. We are specialists in sushi machines.”
“We sell in Europe using tech from Autec,” she said. The Japanese company started initially 1962 as Audio-Technica making audio equipment. When CDs hit the market in the 80’s and the demand for record needles started to decline, Autec looked to boost its product line and had an “idea contest” to create a new product. The result was combination of the audio turntable concept and a toy sushi maker ie. the “ASM50 Nigirikko”, the world’s first automatic sushi maker for home use.
It’s not possible
“There are different machines for many types of sushi and not one singular one,” explained Touchais. Other partners include AIHO, another major Japanese sushi machine manufacturer.
For example, a Sushi Factory Pack will automatically prepare sushi rice without a lot of effort, with rice pot washing done automatically, making as less contact between employees and the production line as possible. Then, when that rice is done it is transported to another machine where fish such as salmon can be added. “1200 rice sheets an hour, you can’t do that by hand, its not possible,” explained Touchais.
Big name clients
Sushi Robots boast some big name clients such as Yo Sushi, Sushi Shop, Carrefour, Lidl, MonoPrix and much more. They don’t work with salmon suppliers per se but it does work with major Asia/EU food importer Foodex.
“The aim is to have a quality of sushi that is equal in each one of their restaurants,” she said.
In terms of the boost in demand following the pandemic, the COO said that it was quite unexpected. “We were suprised, the first two weeks were quiet, after we started to get orders and got quickly back to the desk.”
“Restaurants are closed but with Deliveroo etc, all of these can do home delivery of sushi, all of them are open to do takeaway, and all of them are adapting,” she added.
“Luckily, one of our strengths is that we have stock right here from Japan, when a client asks for one, they can get it in a week,” she concluded. “We are riding the wave”.