In San Diego, sushi is basically a local cuisine. It’s from Japan, of course, but it makes just as much sense in California, a coastal state with easy access to fish and seaweed. (There’s a reason the california roll is just as classic as the spicy tuna roll.)
At San Diego’s KULA Revolving Sushi Bar, however, sushi isn’t served quite the way locals have grown accustomed to. Instead, it’s served by Mr. Fresh. We’ve profiled him below, in part by chatting with KULA San Diego’s manager, Nobuyuki Otsuna.
So who is Mr. Fresh?Let’s rephrase that question slightly: “What is Mr. Fresh?” It’s a conveyor belt that encircles the restaurant, passing by each table on its way back to the sushi bar. It’s studded with plates of sushi, each enclosed in a pod that helps maintain freshness and keep out germs. Diners pluck their preferred rolls or nigiri pieces off the belt, crack their pods open, and chow down.
I don’t get it.Think of it like a buffet—but instead of you perusing the buffet, the buffet peruses you. As Otsuna explained it, at a buffet “the customers have to walk around the restaurant and then pick out the meals that they like.” With Mr. Fresh, “they don’t have to walk around.”
(The differences don’t quite stop there. KULA’s sushi isn’t bottomless—it’s priced by the pod.)How does the conveyor belt know how much you ate?There’s a disposal chute at each table where you can drop your empty plates. A computer monitors this chute and tallies up your tab.
Wow! I want a prize for figuring all this out.You’re in luck. Every time you eat 15 plates of sushi at KULA, a tableside prize dispenser does exactly what its name suggests: it dispenses a small prize, like a keychain. (Otsuna said you never know what your prize will be, so every time you get one you explore the unknown.)
Where did this whole system come from?The Mr. Fresh system originated at KULA’s more than 300 Japanese locations. There, it’s called sendokun. In the past few years, though, the Japanese chain has started opening locations stateside. The San Diego location, opened in March 2015, is the first American one to adopt Mr. Fresh.
Does Mr. Fresh mean KULA doesn’t have a waitstaff?
No. There are servers, but their duties are limited, Otsuna said. They don’t take food orders or bring plates out—they just seat customers, take drink orders, and bus tables after diners leave.
What if the buffet-like selection makes me indecisive?Try the salmon belly, Otsuna’s personal favorite. “It’s like salmon but more fatty,” he said, adding that it “melts in your mouth”—just like the legendary sand at San Diego beaches.
Photo: Salmon by Michael Saechang under CC BY-SA 2.0.