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The Waitlist for This Sushi Spot Numbers in the Hundreds. Here's the Secret Ingredient of Its Success. Royal Sushi & Izakaya's Jesse Ito discusses the power of apprenticeship, following in his father's footsteps, and creating a unique restaurant vibe.

By Shawn P. Walchef

Key Takeaways

  • Thanks to his father opening a restaurant before he was born and running it with his mother for over 30 years, Jesse Ito has had hands-on training since a young age.
  • Ito has built his own name in the restaurant business, leaning on his apprenticeship with his father.
  • Omakase is traditionally an intense experience. Though he pays proper homage to Japanese culture, Ito sets a bit of a different vibe in his omakase room to ensure his customers are comfortable and able to enjoy the full experience.
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There's no fast path to becoming a master — it takes work.

As a renowned sushi chef and owner of Royal Sushi & Izakaya in Philadelphia, Jesse Ito carries a legacy of culinary excellence and rich tradition. Jesse embarked on an apprenticeship at the tender age of 14 at his family's Japanese restaurant, before immersing himself in the intricate world of sushi.

"You can read books and you can just watch YouTube and learn a lot, but the only way is to learn through a chef working with the product," Jesse says to Shawn Walchef of Cali BBQ Media.

In 1979, before Ito was born, his parents opened Fuji in New Jersey just a few years after moving to America.

Related: Celebrity Chef Maneet Chauhan Shares Her Best Tip for Aspiring TV Chefs

Shaped by his early years working with his parents at their restaurant Fuji (his mom at the front of the house and his dad making food) Ito's culinary journey began with a hands-on apprenticeship. "The best way to learn is through apprenticeship," he says. "You have to apprentice and work at places, and work with the product."

Starting as a teenage dishwasher, he was soon thrust into the sushi bar, navigating the challenges of mastering the craft.

Ito's father was instrumental in shaping the Japanese food culture in the tri-state area and became known among top chefs as a culinary authority. They sold the restaurant in 2015 to help their son fulfill his dream of opening Royal Sushi & Izakaya.

Ito now has the honor of working alongside his dad at his own restaurant. "He kind of built this foundation. He was part of building the Japanese culture food scene in this tri-state area. So it was big shoes to fill. And having him there is really great," says Ito.

Related: 24-Karat Gold Syrup Is Just One Part of This Self-Taught Chef's Empire

"Family has always been the #1 driving force for me to show up and execute," Jesse Ito wrote in an Instagram post about family and running a business.

"It's one thing to fail yourself… that's not impossible to recover from. It's another thing to fail people relying on you. That may sound like a heavy burden, but it's also very empowering and will push you to move mountains."

The Next Generation of Omakase

From behind a back curtain at Royal Sushi & Izakaya, Jesse Ito brings a unique vibe to the traditional omakase experience — blending contemporary Japanese aesthetics with modern comfort and fusion of cultures. (Omakase translates to "I leave it up to you," meaning that the customer leaves it up to the chef to select seasonal specialties.)

There are only 8 seats available at a time for the 17-piece, hand-crafted, tasting experience. Hundreds have signed up for the waitlist online.

In his omakase room, Ito orchestrates a unique ambiance, deviating from the traditional omakase setting.

Drawing inspiration from old-school hip-hop, funk, and artists like David Bowie, Ito sets the stage for a relaxed and enjoyable culinary journey. He intentionally fosters an atmosphere where guests feel at ease, encouraging conversation and camaraderie.

Related: How This Chef Navigated a $80,000 Turnaround for His Business

"My omakase room, which has a bit of a different vibe," expresses Ito. "All my guests feel super comfortable talking to each other, talking to other guests, talking to me. It doesn't feel pretentious where you feel so stuffy, where you're like, okay, I can't just let loose and have fun here."

Though he hasn't scaled Royal Sushi & Izakaya or the omakase concept quite yet, he understands that taking the next steps, both internally and externally, is necessary.

"I know inevitably that's something I'll have to come to terms with because it's part of the process. It's part of growth."

About Restaurant Influencers

Restaurant Influencers is brought to you by Toast, the powerful restaurant point-of-sale and management system that helps restaurants improve operations, increase sales and create a better guest experience.

Toast — Powering Successful Restaurants. Learn more about Toast.

Shawn P. Walchef

Founder of Cali BBQ Media

“Be the show, not the commercial.”

Cali BBQ Media Founder Shawn Walchef helps brands and leaders leverage the new Business Creator Economy with strategic Smartphone Storytelling and Digital Hospitality.

His Cali BBQ restaurant company has generated more than $35 million since opening in 2008. They operate numerous locations in San Diego and beyond.

Shawn’s weekly video series Restaurant Influencers (published by Entrepreneur Media and produced by Cali BBQ Media) has been seen by over 25 million people.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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