Samurai Sushi, a beloved locals' institution for nearly two decades, is officially changing hands. Co-owner Ru Mehta confirmed last week that the Nesters and Creekside locations were in the process of being sold to long-time staff. (The Squamish location will continue to be operated by the current ownership.)
For Mehta and fellow owner Yasu Ida, it was essential that the business went to someone in the Samurai Sushi family who understood the restaurant's underlying philosophy.
"It was important for us to sell it to staff," he explained. "It is nice to keep it local and have people that you know and trust operating the business."
Taking over operations will be 34-year-old Evan Choi and 36-year-old Takuya Ota, Samurai Sushi staff who have worked in the kitchen off and on for the past 10 years. Mehta said for a long time the intention had been to sell some of the restaurant's shares to staff, and when staffing shortages got ownership thinking about rebranding the Creekside location—which officially had its soft opening last week as Samurai Bowl—Mehta said it made more sense just to turn over the entire operation.
"As we got into it and looked at it, we just decided it would make a smoother transition if we stepped out of the way and let them do it their way," noted Mehta, adding that he and Ida will help with the transition over the coming months.
Choi said he is looking forward to running the ship alongside his close friend, Ota.
"We had really good relationship between owners, managers and staff for last 10 years. I realized this is the best business, best coworkers, best owners I ever seen. That's why we decided to take over the business," he said.
While the owners are solidifying the new menu at Creekside, which at the moment includes Thai- and Japanese-style curries, ramen, and a Canadian spin on Korean bibimbap, Choi said he doesn't plan to change much at the flagship Nesters location—including its longstanding commitment to quick service and affordable pricing.
"Nesters, we don't want to change a lot of things; I don't think we really need to," he said.
Keeping the business in-house was a way for Mehta and Ida to pay it forward after their time working at Teppan Village, the Japanese steakhouse overlooking Mountain Square.*
"Yasu and I bought Teppan Village from the owners when we were staff and they fronted us the money. Then when we sold (Samurai Sushi), we sold to staff and fronted them the money, so it was the same thing again," he recalled.
Looking back on the 17 years since opening the original Nesters location, Mehta said, despite the challenges, he considers Samurai Sushi as "a gift."
"It allowed me to stay in Whistler all these years and make a good living. If people liked it, that's awesome and feels good, but it was just an idea we had that we ran with and did it. It's also important to us to hand it over to the right people so it could keep going. But definitely, it's time to let it go," he reflected. "We even said this to the new owners: there's room for improvement, because the last few years as owners, we've just been gliding along. It was time to give it some new blood and some new life. That feels good, too."
For more information, visit whistlersamuraisushi.com.
*An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Teppan Vilage had closed. It is, in fact, still open, at 4293 Mountain Square. Pique apologizes for the error.