The conveyor belt is cranking up today at 4960 South Newport Street in the Belleview Station development; Sushi-Rama is now open in its spacious second location, serving color-coded plates of sushi rolls, nigiri and other Japanese fare from chef/owner Jeff Osaka.
Osaka opened the first Sushi-Rama at 2615 Larimer Street in RiNo just over two years ago, with a long-term plan of spreading the concept to more Denver neighborhoods. The new DTC outpost is three times the size of the original and also has bar seating in addition to the many powder-blue seats around three long conveyor-belt tables. The menu is the same as at the original, with small plates color-coded to match prices, mostly in the $2 to $4 range. Osaka explains that one change at both restaurants is that portion sizes and prices have been lowered, so customers can sample more variety without breaking the bank.
Sushi-Rama uses technology to streamline the sushi process and to help keep prices low; Osaka notes that he sources his seafood from the same suppliers used by some of the city's top Japanese restaurants, but he has several kitchen gadgets that reduce training and labor costs. There's the conveyor belt itself, called a kaiten in Japan, and there's also a "sushi printer" that presses a layer of warm rice onto sheets of nori, which the Sushi-Rama team then fills, rolls and slices. Another machine produces rice balls for nigiri.
The color-coded plates tell servers how much to charge customers, but they also have microchips attached to the underside that keep track of freshness. As the plates wind their way through the dining room, the chip keeps track of the time each bite of food was created; when it reaches expiration time, the chip triggers a small gate on the conveyor belt, which kicks the plate off the belt and back into the kitchen for disposal. The belt also has gates that can be set for non-peak hours that cut the total circuit in half, so dishes spend less time traveling past empty seats.
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To accommodate the south Denver office crowd, Osaka has added four to-go "Rama Boxes," ranging from $12 to $16, that come filled with a selection of rolls and nigiri as well as a serving of sunomono salad.
Fans of the original Sushi-Rama will find the same decor, with bright primary colors, a mid-century modern style and high ceilings — though the new location lacks a mezzanine level.
This is just the beginning of expansion for Sushi-Rama; Osaka has locations in the works for Lone Tree and Aurora's Fitzsimons neighborhood, both of which will open this year, and he's also hoping to expand out of state, noting that he can probably add to up to ten locations under his current self-financed model. Osaka also runs Osaka Ramen in RiNo and 12@Madison in Congress Park.
Sushi-Rama Belleview Station is open for lunch and dinner beginning at 11 a.m. on weekdays and noon on weekends. It's part of a whole new restaurant neighborhood that also includes Ambli, Corvus Coffee, Backcountry Deli, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Los Chingones and a soon-to-open southside version of Highland Tap & Burger.