“If you don’t evolve in this business or any other business, you’re done”
It’s the middle of Summer in New York. It’s hot. It’s humid. So what better time to grab a carefully-crafted, totally fresh, colorful and vibrant piece of plant-based sushi. And if you want plant-based sushi there is no better person to talk to than Guy Vaknin, the energetic founder of a quickly growing mini-empire called Beyond Sushi. His mission? To provide a “perfect bite, every time”.
So I was excited to talk to Guy, sitting in one of the rooms at ICE in the Financial District, the new home of the culinary school where Guy started his food career in 2007.
Guy started Beyond Sushi after noticing the popularity of vegetarian sushi, while he was still working in kosher catering kitchen as part of his father’s business. He decided to go out on a limb and invest all his savings in their first location in 2012, with just $1,000 left over when they opened.
He wasn’t vegan at that time, and their menu on opening day included some sauces which included animal products. But after an eye-opening incident just a couple of weeks after the launch, he decided to make the whole menu completely plant-based. Since then he applied the same thinking to his own diet and is a strong advocate for the plant-based lifestyle, from the nutritional to the ethical to the environmental considerations.
“This is it. This is the way the world is going. There is no other way.
Oceans are dying. We are killing everything around us.
We finally realized that by farming cows we are also killing the planet. And we realized that it kills us. So you can get on this boat now, or you can join it later.”
Beyond Sushi has gone from strength to strength and now has three locations, a larger menu including dumplings and noodles, and is underway expanding to even more spots in the city. Over the next few years Guy sees them adding other cities to their roster, but is determined to keep the same attention to detail that they’ve had from the days when he was in the kitchen personally every day.
“I prefer reading the bad Yelp reviews because it helps me improve”
Guy’s high standards come across really strongly in this episode. It’s clear to see the kind of qualities you need to produce this kind of food day-in, day-out with the pressures. And at the same time there’s so much positivity here about plant food and how it’s the most exciting kind of cuisine to be in.
“Every chef needs a vegetable or an herb to enhance their dish. So why use the other stuff?”
I’m sure you’ll be inspired by Guy, to try his food and get out there making your own. Enjoy.
Topics we discuss:
Sushi as a vessel to carry a “perfect bite”
How Guy got started in food and went from culinary school straight into running a kitchen
The restrictions of kosher cuisine
The true meaning of sushi
The incident that caused Beyond Sushi to become completely vegan
The importance of evolving as a business and a person
The discipline and processes necessary to ensure high quality every time
How to make fresh and handmade food for the fast-casual market
The specifics of some of their most popular dishes
The challenges of scaling
How he chooses real estate in NYC for Beyond Sushi
The trend of plant-based food
How color and flavor come from plants
The popularity of veganism in Israel