TD Conversations: ‘Harry’ Hakuei Kosato of Sushi and More

‘Harry’ Hakuei Kosato, proprietor of Sushi and More — India’s largest sushi delivery service — started the business for the most unusual reasons. 
Sushi ready to be rolled.
Sushi ready to be rolled.

How does it feel to have completed 10 years of operations of Sushi and More?

When they say 98 per cent of businesses fail in 10 years, we feel honoured, privileged, and very grateful that we are here standing tall and continuing to bring happiness to thousands of our customers through our sushi in India. We continue to push ourselves, bringing new experiences for our customers. But the other feeling is that it is only 10 years, that we are still learning, seeing how we can improve our product and packaging every single day. So, it is definitely a milestone. I am proud to be part of the Sushi and More team, but the future is really exciting in India.

'harry' hakuei kosato is a many who wears many hats.
‘Harry’ Hakuei Kosato is a many who wears many hats.

What brought you to India?

Millions of companies start every day, yet only 0.02 per cent survive 30 years. During the course of my career, I wanted to understand why this happens. I spent the first decade of my work life launching and scaling brands like Virgin and Dyson in Japan. I helped them generate over USD 300 million in revenue. 

The first time I visited India, I noticed no one was consuming sushi and saw the magic in numbers. That inspired me to start an import and distribution business for Japanese ingredients. We became one of the leading distributors until the tsunami hit Japan. This led us to pivot and start Sushi and More, India’s first and now biggest sushi-delivery business. Now celebrating 10 years, the business has not only survived, every year Sushi and More delivers over 100,000 meals. Then, recently Kikkoman headhunted me to start their operations in India. Most people don’t realise this, but Kikkoman is a 350-year-old brand and remains a global leader.

But the other story is that I wanted to work in a growing economy, like Japan was in the 1960s and 1970s. 

And, of course, the very Indian spiritual story is that it was destined to be. I could have worked at global corporates or done something in Japan or Singapore or elsewhere, but I simply love India. It is amazing to be here, and I’m honoured to be part of the India growth story.

Sushi and more platter.
Sushi and More platter.

Why did you decide to set up Sushi and More? Was the sushi market in India already mature when you entered?

Truth be told, first is because I wanted to eat great sushi in India. I could not find good sushi back in 2007 in India. I always think it is important to be affordable and reasonably priced so that you feel happy with the price that you are offering. And rather than me just enjoy it, why not share? That is why Sushi and More was born. 

Also, we were doing an import business, which is a B2B business, but I wanted to be closer to the customer. No one else was doing it. Besides, they told us it’s impossible! Whether Virgin or Dyson in Japan, these were unrealistic business proposals but over time they were able to make a huge impact. I think with Sushi and More we have done that. The sushi market as we know it today did not exist back then. Maybe there were a few restaurants here and there, but hardly a market.

Sushi and more's double avocado roll (left) and the salmon nigiri.
Sushi and More’s Double Avocado Roll (left) and the Salmon Nigiri (right).

How did you make Indians accept and embrace sushi?

First and foremost is the product that should be very tasty. More important is consistency of delivery. We have tailored some of our sushi to Indian palates but try to remain true to the origins of sushi. I guarantee every dish that goes out of all our kitchens. Product development has taken hours, and we ensure the highest levels of training to deliver consistently best products every single day. 

How has the response been?

Fantastic. Amazing. Excited about the future potential. Many of our customers are repeat customers, and they have also called upon their friends and family to enjoy Sushi and More which is amazing. We are at eight stores now, and very busy. In fact, we have doubled our business in the last year or so, and one potential partner whom we have spoken to wishes us to do 450 stores in the next decade or so — of course, that is to be seen, but to date the response has been amazing.

What makes Sushi and More stand out from the competition?

First of all, we are the first. The first to start affordable sushi in India, and the first to do multiple locations in multiple cities, which means there is a high degree of operational excellence required and standards. As I said, consistency is important, and people love our packaging, our storytelling, but at the end of the day, it is the fact that it is delicious, and that we are able to deliver happiness every single time.

Sushi and more's staff is able to guide customers on how much soy sauce and wasabi to use while eating sushi.
Sushi and More’s staff is able to guide customers on how much soy sauce and wasabi to use while eating sushi.

What are some of your bestselling sushis?

Customers love our Non-Veg California roll, Non-Veg Prawn Tempura Roll and Spicy Salmon Roll, for example. All yum!

What vegetarian sushis do you make?

Asparagus Tempura Roll, Crunchy Avocado Roll, Shiitake Mushroom Roll…

How often do you refresh your menu?

We have our core menu that we have not really changed. But we always try to upgrade and add more ingredients with the basic core range of items too. New product development is done regularly. We introduce seasonal favourites, and I have spent hours in the kitchen myself to develop a new range for our 10thanniversary. I think we did over 20 items that we are happy about that we are adding step by step to our core menu. 

How are your chefs trained? 

Initially, we had a Japanese chef come and do our training. We have also recruited people who have been making sushi in India for years, former five-star hotel chefs, for example. Others join with relatively short experience with sushi skills, and we train them. We have had one person who was a delivery gentleman who has become one of our long-time and great performing chefs. My medium-term vision, in fact, is to start a Sushi and More Academy to train the next generation of sushi chefs.

How well do your staff understand the nuances of sushi? Are they able to explain it to the customer?

Our sushi chefs live and breathe sushi. Of course, it is a new cuisine but there are quite a number of good chefs in India, and Sushi and More is pleased to have a stable group of core sushi chefs who enjoy working on many exciting projects — of course, most have not been to Japan, but they have experience, and now the internet offers so much information. 

An important aspect is hygiene and delivery of fresh sushi to our customers. Explaining to the customers, for example, at The Quorum Club Gurugram and Food Hall’s multiple locations where we do take away and delivery, is done by our staff who can show how to roll, how not to use too much wasabi or soy sauce, and so on.

The salmon in the salmon avocado roll comes from farms in norway and is sustainable.
The salmon in the Salmon Avocado Roll comes from farms in Norway and is sustainable.

How did the pandemic treat Sushi and More?

It was tough. We were closed for about three months but it forced us to rethink our basics and also relook at our menu, our marketing, our branding. We said since we have come so far, the only way out is through. People also started to realise that quality, affordable sushi really did help bring happiness when so many challenges were going on with the pandemic. It was tough, but it really helped us come together as a team and chart our way into the future.

Which cities are you planning to expand to next?

We’d like to do Bengaluru and Pune. More stores in Mumbai and in Delhi as well. In places like Nashik and Goa we are doing pop-ups to gauge the market as well as promote sushi in places which may not have experienced great sushi. 

Where is your fish sourced from?

The salmon is Norwegian, of course. The prawn we get locally. Tuna we only do canned which is super-tasty with Japanese mayonnaise. As the quality, consistency, and prices are not reasonable now for tuna and other seafood, we only get things which we can get consistently and priced reasonably. 

Sushi being rolled at sushi and more.
Sushi being rolled at Sushi and More.

There is a lot of concern now around overfishing and preserving fragile marine ecosystems. Does Sushi and More take sustainability into account in its operations?

Interesting and important point. I think we are just starting to think more about sustainability but we were the first ones in India to start sugar cane packaging. As for marine sustainability, my understanding is that Norwegian salmon and prawns are farmed.

Suggested Read: Treat yourself to Mumbai’s first live sushi bar at Wakai

Which is your own favourite sushi?

I love many varieties, but I especially love Tuna Mayonnaise Roll, which I have adored since I was a kid. Of course, I love our salmon rolls and tempura rolls as well as all other stuff on the menu.

What Indian dishes do you like to eat?

Butter chicken with a dash of Kikkoman Soy Sauce.

What are some of the things you like most about India?

Vibrancy. Spirituality. Flexibility. Positivity. Creativity. The opportunities offered by the Indian dream (like it used to be with the American dream many years ago), and that there are so many places like Leh and Rishikesh that I have recently visited that are absolutely stunning destinations.

Read more. 

One chef, one recipe: Sushi salad with tofu & brown rice by Pallavi Khaitan