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(Posted 3 p.m., Nov. 23)
Former insurance appraiser opens hot new restaurant in Orléans
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Jack Chung is the proud owner of Sawa Sushi located across from the Shenkman Arts Centre in the Orléans Town Centre . Fred Sherwin/Photo

A little over a year ago, Jack Chung was doing accident appraisals for several car insurance companies. Today, he is the owner of Sawa Sushi, a hot, new restaurant located across from the Shenkman Arts Centre in the Orléans Town Centre.

Sawa Sushi opened in September in the space formerly occupied by Luigi's Italian Eatery which was formerly East Side Mario's. Chung's formula for success is simple, serve quality food in a warm and friendly environment that above all else, respects the customer.

"The important thing is to be sincere, not just in how you serve the customer, but in how you make your food. You have to treat the customer the way that you would want to be treated," says Chiung, who is currently splitting his time between operating the restaurant and searching for a new home in Orléans for his wife and their three-year-old son.

In planning the restaurant, Chung wanted to offer local residents quality Asian food, and especially sushi, which is the third fastest growing type of food in Ottawa, in an all-you-can-eat format, something normally unheard of in other sushi restaurants.

"People don't believe you can serve quality sushi in an all-you-can-eat format and make money. They think you must either cut costs and sacrifice quality or you will go out of business. The fact is while some people eat a lot, most people eat not as much. They eat to enjoy the food. You have to find the balance between quality, consumption and price. At $13.95 for the lunch menu and $21.95 for dinner, we are still making money," says Chung.

Sawa is also unique in that they have different prices for children based on age. One of the drawbacks to most all-you-can-eat restaurants for families is that children never eat their money's worth, which is one way the restaurant ends up making money. At Sawa kids under-3 eat for free; for children three- and four-years-old you pay $4.95; for children 5- to 7-years-old it's $8.95; and for kids 8-10 it's $13.95. They also have an all-you-can-eat discount for seniors.

Another important factor to the Sawa's early success if the fact that the all-you-can-eat menu is not just limited to sushi. Tempura dishes are also included along with teriyaki favourites, several Thai selections such as Pad Thai chicken and beef, General Tso chicken and even crispy chicken wings. In fact, the dinner menu has nearly 200 items to choose from.

Of course Sawa also has an à la carte menu with several different combo selections and main dishes such as Thai curry, assorted Tempura, lemon chicken, and assorted Teriyaki dishes.

The early buzz since the restaurant opened has focused on the quality of the food. Chung says this has a lot to do with the restaurant's experienced kitchen staff. The head chef started cooking Asian food when he was in his early teens and has more than 17 years experience. The sushi chef has 10 years experience.

"Our head chef is also one of my investors, so that should tell you a lot. He has a vested interest in making sure this business is a success," says Chung, whose goal is to eventually franchise the business.

To that end they are doing a lot of work in promoting their brand, especially in the social media. Their Facebook profile has accumulated 294 "Likes" in just three short weeks.

Some of the posts include: "Another great dinner at Sawa!!! We calculated we've eaten at 16 sushi restaurants in Ottawa. This is at the top!!!!" by Julie Lefebvre, and "Best Restaurant! By far my favorite all you can eat ever! I'd come to Ottawa anytime for this sushi!" by Sarah Beretta.

Orléans Coun. Bob Monette is already a frequent customer and Mayor Jim Watson dropped by to sample their menu earlier this month.

While the restaurant can seat more than 400 people, they currently have seating for just over 200, including a large bar area.

"Why open the whole restaurant when you don't need all the seats? It doesn't make any sense. Right now we can serve with the customers we have with 200 seats. The important thing is we have room to expand. When we start operating at full capacity we will be the largest sushi restaurant in Ontario," says Chung who points to the future opening of a large office building behind the Shenkman Arts Centre and a new hotel as opportunities for growth.

In staffing the new restaurant, Chung went out of his way to hire local servers.

"We worked with the Employment Ontario Centre next door and we held a job fair. I wanted to make sure we hired local people and we hired bilingual people. The funny thing is that its turned into a cultural exchange. Some of our chefs never had to speak English at work before. Now they are learning to speak with our servers in English. It's very exciting."

Sawa Sushi is open Sunday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. To make a reservation or place an order for pick-up call 613-834-0008, or visit their website at www.sawasushi.ca.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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