It’s hard to believe that we are now in Week 11 and Soooshi has been open in town for over a month. I went along to chat to the student entrepreneurs Fred and Jonáš, to talk about the founding of St Andrews’ latest foodie venture. Having been one of the winners of the ‘Idea Explosion 2014’ competition for student enterprise, the boys were able really make a start to their entrepreneurial journey. They are extremely grateful for the opportunity this money gave them, and also to Bonnie in the Careers Centre for her ongoing support and advice on running their own local business.
Victoria: Tell me a little about how Soooshi started.
Jonáš: We met in Uni (University) Hall in first year and Soooshi started in second year. Fred needed to fundraise to go to Guatemala and so we started for that. We both had this idea, separately, but it was not until Fred needed to do the fundraising that we actually made it happen.
V: How did it formulate from an idea into a reality?
J: The main issue is always to find the right people. People who are willing to do the same idea – it takes a while. When Fred mentioned the idea I thought, “Yeah, this is good” and we started ordering things the day after. It is the incentive you need – someone to work with and share the responsibility.
The boys started making sushi in halls, prepping sushi in the communal kitchens for their friends. However, they soon realised how popular it could become and expanded their market out to DRA and beyond. At that point they comprehended that their cooking conditions and ambitions to make it into a bigger business were unsustainable.
J: It was quite a journey time-wise to get the premise at Zest…Since last December we have been looking for a place – for a kitchen to cook in. The rent was unviable. We couldn’t just get a place of our own being part-time. We are really grateful to Lisa, the manager of Zest To Go because she took us on immediately. [She] was really keen and has mentored us. She does a lot of charity projects helping people with disabilities and is very entrepreneurial.
Luckily for them, Lisa made the boys only do one test session in the kitchen at Zest To Go and despite some initial teething issues (time taken to take necessary hygiene courses, adapt to new ingredients, increase production scale and utilise new preparation space), they felt welcomed and supported by Lisa from the start.
V: Do you do all your preparation on site?
J: Yes, we do all the preparation on site for hygiene. Usually [Zest] closes around 6pm but on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays they close at 4.30pm, so we have an hour and half before we open. We have all the prepping to do and it’s quite a rush, but we want to keep to the opening times.
V: And why sushi, is it just something that you both loved?
J: Nahm Jim’s was pretty expensive and we saw there was a market for it.
F: We had the idea separately but it was because we liked it and we thought there would be a good market for it. Finding supplies was pretty tough. We source from the same supplier as the Old Course Hotel and the Rusacks Hotel, so it’s really nice fish, mostly from the Outer Hebrides. The company is based in Perth and they source as much as they can locally. The salmon is caught a few days before we get it so it’s really fresh. The tuna is pole and line so it’s all ethically caught, even though it’s not local; and we pay accordingly. The fish is the most important supply. We source all the sushi stuff from an online website – the biggest supplier in the UK. We use smaller companies for all the other equipment we need. We keep it in the fridge for no more than a day. It’s all sushi grade fish.
J: At the moment we have smoked salmon which is also really good. We have the option of getting more ingredients so we have quite a wide range of products and we have ‘Special Sundays’ where we have a new option on the menu.
F: We started with spicy shrimp, smoked mackerel; a ‘smoky’ box. Some people think the mackerel can be too fishy, but it was really good.
V: Do you do just the traditional sushi rolls at the moment? – I’m afraid my knowledge of sushi is quite limited!
J: Yes, we don’t do Ngiri, just traditional rolls. We haven’t done it yet because it would be too difficult at the beginning logistically. We have to think about our employees for now. We are sticking to traditional fillings. In the California rolls it is very popular to use cream cheese. We want to stick to the healthy options. It is very basic – it’s all about the fish. We follow Jiro – a great Japanese sushi chef. We force all our employees to watch the documentary on him!
Fred and Jonáš currently employ five people to help with the preparation, sales and clean-up; but these numbers will probably need to increase in the near future.
V: Being a student run business, are you going to be open in the holidays?
F: Our main customer body disappears so we’re not planning on having it open during the holidays. We obviously want locals to come in as well but they are harder to target.
J: We use facebook, that’s where we started our campaign, but we are quite limited with our studies…But we want to expand our social presence. Instagram is coming up. One of our sales assistants is going to help with that.
The boys do have plans for Soooshi to expand in the future, but being students and entrepreneurs is a tough balancing act. Next year Fred is leaving, but Jonáš will still be here and they have therefore worked hard to train their employees so that the business can continue. Despite how grateful they are for the premise they have available to them at the moment, it does limit their capacity. The optimum would be to have access to the lunch-time and dinner market on their own premise, but market prices in St Andrews do not come cheap and a lot of investment would be required. Plans to expand include catering events as well as the opening of their online ordering system.
J: It’s an online e-shop where you can customize your own boxes, buy it online and then come here to pick it up. That would be a great extension. We will have to see how it goes in the long term.
F: We had an idea for a sushi van – It’s still a good idea, but pretty expensive.
V: What advice would you give to people wanting to make sushi, just for fun?
F: Get the right ingredients – get the rice right. Making sushi is all about simplicity, but you just have to make sure you get the basics right. You can do it in a simple pot, but you need some experience. We tried last year, but it was a total failure if we were stressed. So you need a rice cooker, and the rice vinegar which adds flavour to it.
J: A lot of people buy supermarket rice vinegar but it’s just not as good. The rice is so good by itself, you could just eat it. You can experiment with that, there’s long, medium and short grain rice. We went for short because it looks better. There are distinctions of what is better, but we stick to the short. Our sushi became so good when you just got the right fish. Before we just bought salmon in Tesco, but it’s about getting the right fish, sushi grade. It’s not really possible to get it for yourself except for special shops like Kerachers on South Street. If you ask for it, they can order some for you. Just enjoy it and make it with friends. You can make lots of different shapes and combinations. You just have to make the time to enjoy it.
Soooshi is open 18:15-22:30, Friday – Sunday
Zest To Go, Market Street, St Andrews