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On a roll for more than 17 years — record growth and new Asian food channel expansion
Written by: Molly Shaw
Produced by: James Logan
With approximately 850 sushi bars in everything from specialty supermarkets to cafes, hospitals, universities, airports, corporate food service locations and more across the country, Hissho Sushi is rounding out its 17th year in business with record success. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Hissho’s food service and franchise business has blossomed by more than 72 percent over the last couple of years and the company now ranks No. 4028 on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list for the fifth time.
Founder Philip Maung, who started the business in 1998, is an exemplar of the American Dream. Maung arrived in the U.S. a decade earlier in 1989 with less than $13 to his name. He saw a business opportunity in what was then a relatively nonexistent East Coast sushi market.
Building an empire from the ground up
He picked Charlotte as the city to launch Hissho due to the number of banks, but with little previous business success, they were hesitant to give him financing. But Maung, having grown up in a very impoverished home, is no stranger to adversity and he refused to give up.
He and his wife pooled their resources to launch Hissho out of their home kitchen. “As with any startup company, the first few years were very challenging,” admits Maung. “We finally started making money after our third year in business.”
In Japanese, Hissho means certain victory — a name fitting for the birth and evolution of the family-owned company. A dedication to quality products at affordable price points and detailed service allowed Hissho to quickly acquire new customers with little to no advertising. “We don’t advertise,” says Maung. “Our business was built through word-of-mouth and our success came because we built relationships with one partner at a time and we stand behind our product.”
Maung says by building this solid foundation, as well as investing heavily in infrastructure and employee training, Hissho has been able to achieve many things that were just aspirations in 1989. “Growth starts with a solid foundation,” he says. “We’ve been working really hard over the last couple of years and it has paid off.”
Today, Hissho remains based in Charlotte, operating out of a 51,000-square-foot production facility, but the company’s reach extends well beyond Charlotte. “We now have about 850 locations, including new locations in airport terminals in Charlotte, Nashville, Tennessee, and Portland, Oregon,” notes Maung. “We now have 400 employees, plus an additional 300 franchisees with their own employees.”
A focus on fresh, natural ingredients
Hissho’s home base in Charlotte is the main hub of production and product development. The Hissho motto is: “Made fresh daily, that’s how we roll.”
Since inception, the company’s mission has been to produce the best quality sushi with top-notch ingredients. Whether Hissho’s chefs are crafting a traditional California roll, an eel roll or spicy sriracha-topped sashimi tuna, customers can rest assured the ingredients utilized are the freshest out there. Maung and his team source the best possible ingredients from world markets, guaranteeing the most outstanding seafood, soy, rice and vinegar.
“We also invest heavily in employee training,” says Maung. “All of Hissho’s chefs spend seven to 11 weeks training at our headquarters before being relocated to a Hissho sushi bar in our affiliated marketplaces.”
Hissho’s chefs purchase fruits and vegetables locally from sustainable sources, and the company’s wasabi and ginger are free of artificial colors and dyes. Hissho also offers multigrain and brown rice as an option for nearly all of its rolls.
Beyond the roll
While Hissho has made its name known in fresh, authentic sushi, Maung says the company is looking beyond the roll and to a whole range of new opportunities in the ever-popular Asian foods market. “A lot of people think we’re just a sushi company, but recently we’re doing a lot more than just sushi,” he says.
Hissho has added dishes such as pho, ramen and other Vietnamese noodle soups to its lineup. “We’re also doing traditional bahn mi sandwiches and steamed buns and dumplings,” says Maung. “We’re even doing a take on a Chipotle-style burrito, but made with sushi ingredients such as seaweed and nori. We’re also working on more made-to-order Korean barbecue foods.”
There is room for growth in other channels beyond sushi and Hissho is just getting started. “Last year, 20 percent of our revenue was generated from these additional channels and we expect it to continue to be a growing part of business,” adds Maung.
Holding tight to core values and strong culture
As Hissho adds more locations and more products, Maung says the company is experiencing some growing pains. “Our main challenge is in terms of human resources and finding the talented people we need as the company grows so quickly,” he says. “We also want to make sure we don’t dilute our company culture as expansion occurs.”
Maung says Hissho still has a story to tell and that starts with humble beginnings. “Five years ago we started really focusing on our core company values,” he says. “I thought this was important moving forward and it’s all part of an effort to make us one big, happy family.”
After 17 years in business, Hissho Sushi is poised for further progress that is grounded in family ties and traditions and a dedication to bringing the best sushi and Asian-inspired products to the marketplace.