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Mike Cohen is beyond impressed with his first experience at Sushi Shop

    For so many years now I have walked or driven by Sushi Shop ( locations, but never stepped inside to order. With our family focusing exclusively on take-out and delivery options during the COVID-19 pandemic, we agreed to finally give this place a whirl. Let’s just say they can count on us being regular customers from this day forward. What a pleasant surprise the entire experience was.

    It is hard to believe but 2020 marked Sushi Shop’s 20th anniversary. Owned by the MTY Group, there are now 165 locations across Canada.

    The menu is full of innovative, original creations that excite the most devoted sushi fanatics and appeal to sushi newbies.  

    Prepared fresh with care by their chefs, Sushi Shop products offer great flavour and superior freshness. Their popular poke bowls, sushi tacos and blossom and temari collections are just among a wide selection of unique creations available

    In 2000, when Sushi Shop opened the doors of its first location at the Atwater Market in Montreal, sushi was a long way from becoming one of the most popular foods in Canada. Sushi had a small and loyal following, and the few sushi restaurants that were open catered to the already-initiated. As the internet worked to increase awareness of global cuisine, sushi became a cultural mainstay and Sushi Shop emerged as one of the fastest-growing brands in the nation.

    Sushi Shop has been passionately committed since its beginning to being unlike any other sushi experience available. Its progressive approach to sushi pays homage to the artisanal beauty of traditional sushi, while also pushing the boundaries by combining sushi with other global cuisines and flavor profiles. The result is a wildly unique experience that appeals to sushi fanatics and to those who have never tried sushi before. It has helped us win thousands of devoted fans who make Sushi Shop a part of their daily lives.

    Sushi Shop goes far beyond the traditional and cliché California rolls with its own creations, which seek to blend high art with new and exciting flavor profiles. The Blossom Collection artfully shapes rolls such as our teriyaki salmon and salmon truffle into bursting petal designs. The temari collection literally rolls exciting flavor profiles such as tuna tataki and crispy lobster into delicious and bite-sized balls.

    Sushi Shop also takes sushi where it’s never been before by offering such genre-bending products as sushi tacos, sushi pizza, sushi burrito and black sesame ice cream. The brand also appeal to those who may not be in the mood for sushi by offering a fresh twist on Japanese cuisine. For example, the Poke bowls are delicious, nutrient-packed, flavor explosions that use several core sushi ingredients but are styled more like a salad.

    I called in my order at 5:10 pm on a Saturday and they told me it would be ready in 30 minutes. When I arrived, everything was packaged and ready to go.

    We started off with the Umami poke bowl with crispy sticky rice. Beautifully presented like a tartare, their poke bowls come with the choice of white rice, brown rice and Sushi Shop’s unique crispy sticky rice or lettuce. We shared this three ways and each agreed that we did not want it to end. Every morsel was so delicious.

    The delicious sushi pizza recipes come with crispy rice and cheese crust, served with your choice of spicy light mayo, soy, sesame or Yin Yang sauce. We had the one topped with lobster, crab, shrimp, spicy light mayo, mango, red masago, green onion and sesame.

    I must say that the menu is overwhelming: so many amazing choices. We studied the selections closely and settled on a nice variety.  In the temari section, we went for the bomb.   Now each temari is prepared with distinctive ingredients, inside and out, giving them a unique character and personality, with spicy light mayo, soy, sesame or yin yang sauce.  The bomb has   Japanese mayo, teriyaki sauce, sesame and Japanese spices, crab, shrimp, mozzarella, spicy light mayo, Japanese mayo, teriyaki sauce

    For maki, we went for the black mamba. These are medium sized rolls served in eight bite-sized piece and containing all sorts of flavour combinations for the beginner to the sushi expert. In the case of the black mamba, there is shrimp tempura, salmon, kanikama, red and black masago, spicy light mayo, Japanese mayo and green onion.

    The sumomaki rainbow features large rolls, cut into five pieces. Simple as well as more complex flavour combinations ours had tuna, salmon, avocado, green onion, cucumber, tempura, spicy light may and spicy sauce.

    We loved the blossom volcano mini (eight pieces). The top mimics the beautiful Japanese flower. This one had torch-seared salmon, avocado, tempura, red masago, light and spicy light mayo, sesame and soy sheet.

    Still on the blossom section, we tried the phoenix. There were six pieces, containing popcorn shrimp, kanikama, avocado, crispy sweet potato strings, tempura, red masago, sesame sauce, spicy light mayo, Japanese spices, sesame, and rice paper.

    The tartare maki tuna is slightly spicy, tasty and crispy. It represents your ultimate choice of fresh fish or seafood wrapped in lettuce and rice paper. The four pieces contained tuna, tempura, lettuce, cucumber, carrot, green onion, spicy light mayo, spicy sauce, orange masago and sesame, rice paper.

    There were no sushi tacos available that night, so something for us to try next time as well as a number of other items being rolled out; a new maki green crush, combo bamboo and two new poke bowls, all made with their new bamboo rice.  The taste is described as light. delicate and packed with nutrients like vitamin B and antioxidants. In fact, all of their rolls, poke bowls and combos can be made with this new rice.

    States Marc Benzacar, the chief operating officer of MTY’s Fast-Casual Division: “We strive to be different, and we have a unique vision of what sushi can be. We don’t just do the common rolls, we do rolls our way — and it’s an art. We deliver all of the artisanal quality of high-end sushi, and we deliver it at an affordable price. This is why fans are so happy with us, and it’s why business took off so quickly in Canada.”

    Like all restaurant chains, the pandemic has not made things easy.

    “We had more than half of our locations closed during COVID and the pandemic was an extremely difficult time for our franchisees,” said Marketing Director Emilie Mercier.

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    Sushi Shop locales had to cope with  a lack of staff, constant change from the government’s measures, rental fees, food supply interruption, a loss of traffic and delivery services not being readily available in certain regions. “We can now say that most of our locations are opened and we are slowly catching up to where we are in sales before COVID, but the battle has not been won yet,” said Mercier.

    For 2020, Sushi Shop had planned to open 10 new locations.  Expansion will still occur, but not at the intended rate.   

    As for the large menu options, Mercier notes: “We are known by our fans to have an extensive menu, as well as new menu items every few months. Our team helps each location with training. We also try to create new items with ingredients we already have in our store.”

    Delivery orders can be made via Skip the Dishes, Uber Eats, and Door Dash while for pickup you can call it in yourself or use bon app or ritual. Check each location first to which of these services is available.

    Mike Cohen