Developer Ken Wolf and chef Jeff Osaka have spent the last several weeks managing the opening of Denver Central Market, the food hall and gourmet grocery store that opened its doors on Larimer Street to immediate crowds on September 25. But the pair have a few other projects in the works, including a reboot of Twelve on Madison Street — which Osaka says is coming in a month or so — and the expansion of Sushi-Rama, Osaka's conveyer-belt sushi concept, for which the duo has planned three additional locations.
"We're in the process of opening three more Sushi-Ramas," Wolf says, noting that leases are signed at Belleview Station and Fitzsimons, and that a third deal is nearly final in Lone Tree.
The original Sushi-Rama and Osaka's other restaurant, Osaka Ramen, evolved out of a longtime landlord-tenant relationship between Wolf and Osaka: "When Jeff decided to sell Twelve, I was developing the building where Park Burger is," says Wolf. "I had this lower-level space that I thought would be perfect for an underground Tokyo-style ramen shop. We discussed it, and that’s where the [official partnership] started. Then twenty years ago, my kids and I were in Vancouver, and we went to the cutest conveyer-belt sushi restaurant. I said to Jeff, I have this space. Do you want to do a conveyer-belt sushi restaurant? He said yes, and we agreed to do that."
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The partners were originally focused on RiNo, because that's been Wolf's neighborhood for more than two decades, and he's been focused on activating it. "Some of this is a bit of self-interest on my part," he says. "It's not just for the money, and not just for the neighborhood — it’s for me. I’ve always wanted these things."
But Osaka points to the universality of sushi as a reason to expand well beyond its original location. "Sushi has become the norm, like pizza and hamburgers," he says, adding that it's now a food people often eat several times a week, no matter what neighborhood they're in. And so expanding their casual sushi restaurant made more sense than expanding the ramen shop, a market Osaka says is already relatively saturated here in Denver.
Don't necessarily expect Sushi-Rama to become a mega-chain, though: Once these three locations are open in 2017, "I'm done," says Wolf. "I'm getting too old for this shit."