Saiko Sushi, located at 116 Orange Avenue, is set to celebrate its nine year anniversary in a few months. Chef and owner Anthony Pascale knows this is no small feat, especially considering the historically tumultuous tenure of Coronado restaurants. He attributes much of his success to the loyalty and patronage of the locals.
“When I see the locals come in, day after day, week after week, it makes me feel really good,” says Anthony. “We never wanted to cater to tourism…we are here to be a local neighborhood restaurant. That’s what we wanted to do, and that’s what we did.”
When Saiko Sushi opened in 2011, Anthony says they didn’t spend any marketing dollars or make any efforts to woo the concierges. Instead, they saved their money, which they used to get through the first winter, which was “very scary,” according to Anthony.
“When we first opened, the concierges would call us, and say they wanted to come check us out,” says Anthony. “We told them to come on in. Then they would say, ‘just so you know, it’s usually free for myself, and a few of my friends.’”
Anthony didn’t bite, and invited the concierges to come and dine for a discount, but their friends would have to pay. The concierges said they wouldn’t come.
“And we said ‘fine, don’t come,’” says Anthony. “It was a huge gamble, but I think it paid off.”
The business relied on word-of-mouth instead.
“People would just stumble upon it,” says Anthony. “They would find it, and people would come back and bring their friends. Customers would call it ‘their’ new place, and they really took ownership of it. We became a true neighborhood restaurant.”
In many ways, ending up in Coronado was a happy accident. Anthony says after a lease fell through downtown, he and his former business partner and longtime friend Evan viewed the current location and it “checked all the boxes.” All of a sudden, it was time to sign the lease.
“It was the greatest thing to ever to happen to us,” says Anthony. “We had no idea how great Coronado was going to be. We thought it would be pretentious and difficult, but it was totally the opposite. The locals are super laid back and easy to get along with, and it’s not hard to do business here.”
As a restaurant owner, Anthony brings more than a chef’s background to the business. He graduated with a degree in finance 1994, and worked on the 93rd floor of the World Trade Center as a junior currency trader for a Japanese bank.
“I got out of finance because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew that wasn’t it,” says Anthony. “So, I got in my car and drove West.”
He ended up in Park City, Utah, where he skied every day, and landed a gig as a sushi chef apprentice by night. Having no sushi experience whatsoever didn’t slow him down, especially when he noticed how much beer the chefs got to drink behind the bar.
“I really wanted to find a way to balance work and fun,” says Anthony. “For me, sushi is that.”
Even so, Anthony admits that having a finance background is invaluable as a restaurant owner. When it’s time to negotiate a lease, bring on investors or do a payout structure, he knows what to do. Internal accounting, food costs and labor costs are also all part of the day-to-day job.
“There’s a big difference between being a chef and a restaurant owner,” says Anthony. “I’m the chef, and I write the menus, but the things that make you good at being a chef—like being artistic and creative—don’t necessarily help you when you’re trying to be a restaurant owner.”
Nine years after opening, Saiko Sushi still has a zero-dollar marketing budget. Anthony says much of the restaurant’s success is pure luck, but that being “present” is key. He’s at the restaurant between five and seven days a week, and much of that time is spent making sure Saiko has the best local fish.
“One of the things that makes this restaurant unique is that we try really, really hard to use as much wild-caught, local seafood as possible,” says Anthony. “Almost none of it goes on a plane.”
Anthony says he’s spent years cultivating relationships with local wholesalers and fisherman, and his very first stop of the day—after he drops off his daughter at school—is a fish wholesaler from Bay Park. Then he stops to check in with various local fishermen.
“I’m usually going to where their boats are docked downtown, and I’m buying fish off them,” says Anthony. “You’d think that, living in San Diego, everyone would do that…but we’re one of the only ones.”
There’s a lot of fish that comes out of the water that’s not commonly used in sushi bars, so Saiko’s product is a little different. You’ll find things like opah and sheepshead fish, and other things you don’t usually see.
Another key element of Saiko’s success? Building out the bar, according to Anthony. When Saiko upgraded its liquor license in 2012, the business extended the bar and built a new glass wall. This is where many patrons congregate for drinks, sushi and pleasantries.
“People really latched onto the bar,” says Anthony. “It’s the place to be.”
But that doesn’t mean it’s been all smooth sailing. Anthony says that seasonality and staffing can be tough. Another challenge? New competition.
“New restaurants don’t come to Coronado that much, so when they do, it seems like everyone goes to check them out,” says Anthony. “So, it gets a little slow when the new guys come in.”
In the last two years, Saiko Sushi has evolved into a family business. Anthony’s former business partner, Evan, decided to move to Boise, Idaho with his family. It was an amicable split and the two are still great friends, but Evan left some big shoes to fill.
Enter: Anthony’s wife, Mami. She had ten years experience working for the famed Sushi Ota in Pacific Beach, but was spending much of her time raising their young daughter, Makayla. Now that Makayla is older, Mami is the welcoming smile that greets patrons at Saiko as they arrive. She also acts as the floor manager and bookkeeper. You’ll even find ten-year-old Makayla running food orders on school holidays.
“It’s really great,” says Anthony of Saiko’s evolution into a family affair. “It gives us a lot more to talk about.”
When Anthony’s not working at Saiko, you’ll find him drinking beer at Coronado Brewing Company, or at Little Club.
“You have no idea how many times a day I go into Little Club looking for my staff,” he laughs. “But seriously, we love being in Coronado. We’ve worked all over the city, and customers here are by far the coolest and the most fun. I just really like being here, and feel so lucky to be part of that scene.”
We couldn’t agree more! Learn more about Saiko Sushi at their website, www.saikosushisd.com. Don’t forget their all-night happy hour on Mondays from 4:30-9pm.