Modern kitchen: Robot staffed sushi spot opens Downtown

Modern kitchen: Robot staffed sushi spot opens Downtown
Photo by Julianne Cuba

These machines are on a roll!

The owners of a new Japanese restaurant Downtown staffed its kitchen with robots that can spit out hundreds of sushi rolls per hour, which they said allow them to serve on-the-go locals inexpensive, fast fare that is just as fresh as anything made entirely by human hands.

“We wanted to do quick-serve sushi that was affordable,” said Rick Horiike, who with his partner Harris Salat opened the eatery in MetroTech Center, steps from this newspaper’s office. “It’s just a matter of speed.”

The duo’s Big Eye Sushi, which welcomed its first customers on Oct. 3, has attracted a rush of hungry patrons curious about its electronic employees — which the co-owner said help quicken production and cut down on costs — and the up to 400 rolls an hour they can serve up.

“Normally, this sort of volume would require four trained sushi guys to put out the food at this speed, whereas now we just have one head sushi chef,” Horiike said.

The two robots work in tandem: One spits out flattened rectangles of rice that a human employee can then cover with seaweed, fish, and other ingredients, before sucking in the unshaped pile, and spitting out a perfect roll. And the second pushes an uncut roll through blades to produce eight perfectly portioned pieces of sushi.

But the machines, while new to Downtown, are old hat over in Japan, according to Horiike, who said robot-maker Suzumo first introduced them there some 30 years ago, and supermarkets, train-station food courts, and other fast-food sellers started using them soon after.

“This technology has actually been around since the 1980s in Japan, at the Japanese versions of 7-11, and also in train stations,” he said.

Big Eye Sushi isn’t the only robot-staffed restaurant stateside, however, and its co-owner said the machines are becoming more popular in American kitchens, but some restaurateurs don’t like customers to know they’re using them.

The credit-card-only restaurant’s menu includes rolls starting at $6, salads and sashimi bowls for $14, and sushi bentos — which include one roll of choice and three pieces of either salmon, tuna, or yellowtail; a combination of those; or veggies — for $14.

And a machine-made California roll that this reporter sampled on a recent visit tasted as fresh as any exclusively hand-made combination of avocado, crab, and cucumber.

The entire menu is gluten-free, and all the fish are sustainably caught, according to Horiike, who previously worked as a sous chef at Manhattan’s swanky Japanese restaurant Morimoto, and as the executive chef at Bond Street’s Ganso Ramen, which Salat closed earlier this year to make way for his recently opened Mexican eatery Taqueria, which Horiike is also a partner in.

Big Eye’s bots also prepare a small selection of pre-made rolls for patrons without a second to spare, but customers will likely taste no difference between those and made-to-order items due to the owners’ strict policy of never leaving fish in the fridge for more than 15 minutes — unlike some other spots that let sushi sit inside grab-and-go coolers, Horiike said.

“I tried a couple in the city that use a refrigerated case, and the quality was not nearly as good because once it goes in the fridge [for too long] it completely changes the texture and the flavor,” he said.

Big Eye Sushi [2 MetroTech Center between Lawrence and Bridge streets in Downtown, (347) 599-0188, www.gobigeyesushi.com]. Open Mon. through Sun., 11 am to 9 pm.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Robots: These machines can help the restaurateurs make up to 400 rolls per hour.
Photo by Julianne Cuba