New Japanese resaurant on campus doing well despite economy

Business is going smoothly at new restaurant Sarku Japan, on Wright Street, despite the state of the economy.

A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Thursday at 10 a.m.

“We just opened the doors,” said Jerry Pime, managing partner of Sarku Japan and University alum. “We think the prices are very competitive for what people are getting so we’ve been busy. On the other hand, since it’s opening we had to get our labor and food costs in line.”

The first street-front location just opened on Sep. 25 by Pime and his brother, who is Prime’s partner and a University alum. It’s hard getting to the place where the food and labor costs are in equilibrium, Pime said.

“We’re still trying to tweak our labor costs and food costs,” he said. “That’s the hard part. We have to do some adjustments here and there.”

Because Sarku Japan is not a high-end restaurant, Pime said that they will not be too affected by the economic downturn. The restaurant is doing better because they are competitive price-wise, he said.

Rudolph “Rudy” Valenta, general manager and senior in LAS, said that students typically work 15 to 20 hours a week. Pime said it is for extra spending money or to pay for a part of the student’s tuition.

Of the 29 employees at Sarku Japan, 19 of them are University students. In interviewing for the full-time kitchen manager position, Pime went through 23 to 24 applications for one position.

“I was amazed some (applicants) of them had 10 to 15 years in the restaurant industry and were willing to take a job here,” Pime said. “They said ‘I can use anything right now.’ Some of them are desperate.”

The people who applied for the kitchen manager position were not only affected by the current economic situation, but they were from the community. Valenta realizes the need for better prices for the students as well.

“But with these tough economic times, we know that students too need better prices. We’re trying to help the students out,” Valenta said.

Even with the recent state of the economy, Valenta expects business to remain pretty constant. With a good lunch and dinner rush, he said that the restaurant will stay consistent in terms of customer business.

“I think this restaurant is doing very well,” Valenta said. “I feel like Champaign has a very big sushi market with all the students.”

Alexander Uy, franchise business representative, recognizes the turn that the economy has made, but continues to reiterate the recent customer success of Sarku Japan.

“The restaurant is doing very well. Sarku Japan as a whole as a QSR (quick service restaurant) concept is doing excellent,” Uy said. “The economy has turned and I think people are eating less in fine dining establishments. Sarku is benefiting from that.”

The ability to grab sushi on the go has benefited Sarku Japan, unlike the other sit-down restaurants, Valenta said. Their prices have to remain competitive because there are a number of sushi places just on Green Street like Sushi Rock, Sushi Avenue, and Kofusion that have dollar sushi nights on Mondays, he said.

Despite the competition from other sushi establishments, Pime still stresses the recent success of the new business in these economic times.

“We think we’re doing well,” Pime said. “But as volume goes and the amount of customers we serve, we’re doing pretty well. The location is here. The building is here. We shouldn’t be affected too much by the economy.”