If you live in Portland, you’ve likely heard of the Rose City’s most famous sushi establishment: Bamboo Sushi. Set to open their fifth location in Lake Oswego, this staple of the Stumptown food scene has firmly cemented itself as Portland’s preeminent sushi restaurant, and for good reason.
It’s really about more than just a beautiful interior or cleverly-executed food. Bamboo Sushi, led by founder and CEO Kristofor Lofgren, wants to change how business gets done in the restaurant industry.
Already known as the country’s (world’s?) only fully sustainable sushi restaurant, Bamboo Sushi cultivates partnerships with the Marine Stewardship Council, Blue Ocean Institute, Salmon Nation, Monterey Bay Aquarium and Green Restaurant Association. They only serve fish that can be sustainably harvested.
Yet as Lofgren now sets his sights on the low-price point fast-casual segment with a decidedly high-quality option in his new poke bar concept, Quickfish (which we’ll profile for you next week), one must wonder whether his vision of a national seafood restaurant empire can stand under the weight of such a monumental vision.
So, we sat down with Lofgren to ask him that very question, plus a few others regarding Bamboo Sushi’s business mission and the evolution of his goals.
What’s at the core of the “sustainable seafood” question?
Our problem is different in that we have to catch a resource that has to renew on its own. Now, whether you get beef, bison, duck or really anything else, it’s all farmed. Seafood is the last wild capture product we still hunt for. Right now, I would say that seventy or righty percent of our menu is wild caught. Our goal is to slowly, over time, get that number down to around twenty or ten percent.
As you expand Bamboo Sushi and your new Quickfish concept, is it possible to maintain the volume while keeping it sustainable?
As a company, we are dedicated to environmental conservation, so this is something that has definitely been on our minds. As we grow, how do we teach people about ocean conservation, make sure there’s enough fish in the ocean for the future, and support new technologies? Aquaculture has to be the way of the future for the planet. We do think there will always be a role for a few great wild capture products that are special, but we really want to see the main staples, your salmon, scallops, tuna, shrimp and so on, to all be farm raised in a high-quality manner so that you can sustainably feed eleven billion people.
Has aquaculture come far enough that you can maintain the same level of quality in your product as would be the case if it were caught in the wild?
We support more and more farmers that are raising aquaculture in a sustainable way. They use vegetarian and algae feeds. They can reproduce from embryonic stage to adulthood without capturing from the oceans. We liken it to the factory farming of beef. Ten years ago, people started saying they wanted grass-fed and pasture-raised beef. So, the industry started transitioning. We are seeing the same trend in seafood. People are standing up and saying they don’t want to eat seafood that’s been swimming around in its own feces and getting pumped full of dyes and antibiotics and hormones. Companies like ours are demanding sustainable aquaculture and we’ve seen a lot of movement in the last four years or so. I think that trend will continue as time moves forward.
You’ve made no secret of your desire to turn Bamboo Sushi into a national brand and have recently moved into the Denver market. How’s that going?
We’ve been pleasantly surprised at how open-armed we’ve been welcomed into Denver. We were expecting to be viewed as a bourgeoisie outsider, sort of like Portlandia. Instead they were excited to have us and very much welcomed us. Our biggest restaurant yet will open in Denver in May, it’s going to be one-hundred and fifty seats. Denver has a lot of big steakhouses and big restaurants, so it was important to match what Denverites like. After that will be Seattle.
Are you open to sharing your sustainable model with others within the industry?
We try to be very open and transparent with other businesses and we are happy to share best practices with people. I was just on the phone today with a woman who is hosting a conference in Dallas this year that’s on conscious capitalism and social responsibility within the restaurant space, but they work with a lot of the large, corporate restaurants, so she was pleasantly surprised to have us join the mix. She asked if we wouldn’t mind sharing our model and of course I am always open to that.
Does your corporate vision encompass more than ocean sustainability?
We are an environmentally responsible business and try to do business with other like-minded businesses. We don’t support Nestle because we are big into people keeping their water rights. A long time ago we were trying to figure out how to get around needing to stock Pellegrino, so we decided to switch. If you try to buy people’s water rights and then bottle it and sell it back to them, we have a problem with that. It doesn’t really fit into our sustainable, better world business model.
For more information on Kristofor Lofgren, Bamboo Sushi’s corporate mission or specific reservation, menu or location information, visit their website at www.bamboosushi.com.
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a journalist and freelance writer who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over thirteen years. When he’s not profiling Portland-area restaurants and residents, you can find him reporting on national and international travel and eco-tourism through his travel brand, Floppy Hat Adventures.