When one door closes, another door opens — such is the case for Sashimi Express, the hole-in-the-wall sushi joint treasured by Clovis locals around Willow and Nees.
After Fresno bid farewell to the 10-year-old Wassabi To Die For on First and Herndon, Sashimi Express owner Sammy Gunawan could not resist the temptation to scoop up the spot.
“The opportunity came up, so we took it,” Gunawan said. “With the location next to a big street, a successful sub, and it being closer to offices, it seems like a good fit for our concept.”
Fresno is no stranger to pricey sit-down sushi restaurants or easy, cheap takeout establishments, but according to Gunawan, Sashimi Express is the only restaurant sitting comfortably in the middle of those extremes.
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“We’re the only one like this in the Fresno/Clovis area. You can come in for any occasion with family and friends, or come in by yourself. We target families and young adults. We’re different because it’s casual fast food, but the quality is up there with top restaurants,” Gunawan said.
Diners order at the register and choose from a variety of menu items displayed on glowing TV screens. From there, customers pick a seat and wait for their order; if a customer wants their sushi to go, they can sit down on the couch while chefs prepare their meals in plain view and box up the food in clear containers.
Sashimi Express’ sushi looks and tastes like it ought to be served on an elegant white plate at a trendy sushi bar, but its lack of servers allows for a quicker experience that lets the restaurant keep quality of fish up while keeping overhead costs down.
This minimalist, down-to-earth attitude will carry over into Sashimi Express’ new location, which doubles as its very first expansion. Between the bright pink walls and pulsating music, Wassabi To Die For was known for its club-like atomosphere; diners can expect the new space to be updated and renovated beyond recognition.
“We’re shooting for October 1, but there might be delays. It’s happening quick. The new Sashimi Express will be more contemporary, more modern. It will look almost the same as this one now,” Gunawan said.
Despite Wassabi opening up a new location just across the street from his original location, making that a total of three sushi restaurants on three different corners of Willow and Nees, Gunawan is not worried about potential conflicts of the customer base.
“[Wassabi On Fire] serves teppanyaki, so it’s a different crowd. I don’t see why some of our customers can’t go over there and why some of their customers can’t go over here. There is also Mr. Sushi on Willow and Nees. We all do different things,” Gunawan said.
Sashimi Express’ employees are excited about the changes, according to cashier Kim Steinhauer. Steinhauer has worked at Sashimi Express for nearly two years, since the restaurant was remodeled, and is eager to see the finished product in the fall.
“If I could have my way I’d work for both locations,” Steinhauer said. “A lot of the customers here know me and I’ve met lots of regulars … but it’s awesome to see it move to bigger and better things. I’m just happy to be along for the ride.”
The new Sashimi Express will stick to most of its traditional menu, but Steinhauer says there are fun changes in the works.
“[Sammy] is working on a build-your-own bento box where you get to pick all the things that go in it, instead of just picking which type of bento you want. He’s also working on doing build-your-own noodles,” Steinhauer said.
The bento box is a staple of Japanese cuisine, and Sashimi Express’ bentos have become famous for being loaded with goodies at a reasonable price, both for lunch and dinner. The ‘mixed bento’ comes with a main entrée of teriyaki chicken, beef or salmon served on top of rice; customers can choose from two pieces of spicy shrimp inari or two pieces of nigiri, which is in addition to four pieces of the California roll. As if that weren’t enough, the bento is served with miso soup and salad adorned with fresh sliced avocado — all for less than $10.
Steinhauer has her own favorite, the Spicy Bowl, which is similar to Hawaiian poke style of sushi, with raw salmon and tuna mixed in a spicy mayo sauce served on top of rice. For Steinhauer, sushi was an acquired taste, so she can understand when some customers are unsure what to order.
“I wasn’t a huge raw fish fan at first, but now I want everything with raw fish on top,” Steinhauer said. “People come in expecting just sushi, but there is something for everyone. Sometimes we have people come in like the wife wants sushi and the husband isn’t too into it, but we’ve got soups and salads and cooked meats, too.”
Ultimately, Sashimi Express wants its customers to appreciate the effort that goes into their food.
“It’s hard to get the word out that the quality isn’t ‘lesser’ because the format is casual. We use Mary’s free-range chicken, which has no antibiotics and the chickens aren’t cooped up all day – they are out of Sanger. We use certified Angus beef. We have fish like this new type of salmon that nobody else is town is offering,” Gunawan said.
Sashimi Express’ original location is nearby Trader Joes and Starbucks on the southeast corner of Willow and Nees. To order online or view a menu, go to sashimiexpressinc.com.
1057 N. Willow Ave., Suite 105, Clovis