Sushi on Chapel plans soft opening

Brian Graham, owner of Sushi on Chapel, has a simple business philosophy: “Have fun, make money and eat great sushi.”

Surrounded by dark brown walls and square wooden tables at his Chapel Street location, Graham — who plans to open the doors to his new Japanese restaurant in the next day or so — said he is not worried about drawing a crowd, despite his lack of advertising. A good location for foot traffic, the positive reputation of his existing restaurant, Wasabi, in North Branford and, of course, the work of his landlord, Yale University Properties, will be enough to get the word out, he said.

“Yale has big voices,” he said, explaining his lack of advertising.

Plus, Graham said he has experience with the college-going crowd. Although Wasabi is about a 20-minute drive from campus, the owner said he often sees students sitting at his tables. Saki bombing on Mondays, when he offers free saki to customers, tends to draw a particularly large crowd.

Graham said that although he will not continue free-saki Mondays at the new location — “We don’t want to be mobbed,” he laughed — he anticipates that saki martinis at his full-service bar, laid out in a rich, dark-colored marble, will more than make up for the change.

But many students said they were unaware that Sushi on Chapel was opening at all, let alone this week.

“I happened to see the sign from the window while I was eating in Union League,” Simone Jensen ’11 said. “But I don’t think too many people have noticed it.”

To compete with existing Japanese restaurants, especially Samurai, which is just around the corner at on College Street, Graham said he will keep prices middle-of-the-road, ranging from a simple vegetable roll for $3.50 to a $13 “Sexy Shrimp Roll” of lobster and avocado topped with cooked shrimp. A full to-go menu will also be available.

Jensen said while she might try the restaurant if it gets good reviews, she has always been a loyal customer of Miso, just a short walk away. New Haven, she said, does not need another sushi restaurant.

But University Properties Director of Marketing Shana Schneider ’00 said the soft opening that Graham is planning for Sushi will allow the new business to get its footing and work out kinks before the grand opening, scheduled for late April. She said Denali, which opened in mid-March, is saving its grand opening ceremony until Trailblazer opens its doors on Broadway within the next two weeks.

“That’s why we haven’t seen a big to-do about it yet,” Schenider said.

Street-side traffic has been a key business strategy for University Properties, landlord to many new local storefronts including Sushi on Chapel, Woodland Coffee & Tea and the recently opened Denali and The Devil’s Gear Bike Shop II.

Mai Power, assistant manager at Denali on Broadway, said about half of the store’s customer base consists of Yale students, especially those drawn in by the window displays.

“People were curious,” she said, “and that was enough for people to come in and see what he have.”

Powers said being highly visible to Broadway traffic has been a huge plus. Power also cited the reputation of The North Face brand as a draw for customers. She said Denali has been able to rely on Trailblazer’s existing customer base, since people know where to go to pick up a new backpack, fleece or jacket.

“The location is publicity enough,” Lizzy Nadai ’10 said.

Graham is no stranger to these sentiments. Since posting a menu on the wall at the top of the stairs leading down to the restaurant’s front door, Graham said people walking along the sidewalk stop by daily to check out the restaurant’s progress.

“It’s been a big tease for the past three or four months,” he laughed. “Every day, people are knocking on my door, looking in the window.”

Schenider said students will be seeing a number of new stores and restaurants opening their doors in coming weeks: Woodland Coffee & Tea, Trailblazer, Traffic and Thali Too.

“Everyone is pushing to open before students leave,” she said, “but that first impression is very important. We don’t want to sacrifice quality by opening too soon.”

Schneider will lead an official grand-opening ceremony and ribbon cutting for Sushi on Chapel on April 24.

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