Sushi for all!
By Kevin J. Gray
When Stephan Harman and brothers Zach and Josh Weprin opened Fusian on Brown Street, they were interested in creating more than just an upscale fast-casual sushi restaurant. They wanted to give back to a community that raised them, and they wanted to do so by establishing a business that promotes a healthy lifestyle and the team’s core values of quality and sustainability.
The idea for Fusian came while Stephan and Zach were living in Aspen, Colorado. The two friends had just graduated college and wanted to explore the West. Josh, a few years older, had been living in Denver, but had recently moved to Cincinnati. Josh worked in real estate, and found an opportunity to partner with a local sushi chef to open a lunchtime sushi establishment downtown. The idea evolved, and eventually Stephan, Zack and Josh, all former business majors, determined to go into business together. They opened their original location in downtown Cincinnati and began servicing the business lunch crowds. Several months later, the crew opened their Dayton operation.
When asked why Dayton, and specifically, why Brown Street, Stephan explains that this is where the three friends grew up. All three men are Oakwood natives, and Stephan is a University of Dayton graduate, so the trio was excited about the opportunity to give back to the community and to house their operation literally down the street from where they met as boys.
More than that, Fusian’s co-owners wanted to bring some of the ideas they discovered in Colorado to Ohio. It’s a case of reverse brain drain; instead of young professionals honing their skills in Ohio before setting out for larger cities throughout the U.S., these three have borrowed ideas from the West and brought them back to Dayton. Stephan explains, “What we took away from Colorado really brought a lot of our messaging, our branding and our philosophy here to Ohio. We compost and recycle in our restaurants because we think it’s the right thing to do. In Colorado, it’s a very green environment. People respect the environment that they live in. We thought, ‘that sounds great’. In Colorado, we lived and breathed it. Let’s bring that back here.”
The operation is founded on five key values. First, do the right thing. This value builds trust between employees and customers. Next, cultivate meaningful relationships. The group surrounds themselves with the best, creating relationships between Fusian and other like-minded operations. For instance, they’ve teamed up with a local school district for the Sushi in Schools program, where students learn about healthy eating and get to try new foods.
The operation’s third value is to create sustainability. Stephan notes that sustainability is not just about recycling, composting and using LED lights (all of which Fusian does – in fact, all of the waste from Fusian goes not to a landfill, but instead, to a commercial composting facility). Sustainability also means making decisions with a long view in mind. Fourth, Fusian team members are instructed to make service their passion. The operation prides itself not only on the healthy, high-quality food that it serves but, just as importantly, on the customer service it provides. The staff is fun and friendly, and they make an effort to ensure their guests enjoy themselves.
Finally, the fifth value is the simplest: Live it. The Fusian brand is also a lifestyle. From biking to yoga, the co-owners live very active lifestyles and encourage their employees to do the same. This is another idea borrowed from Colorado, where the balance of work and play is a way of life.
The core values appear to pay off. It’s not yet noon on a summer Thursday, when UD is not in session, and the brightly colored restaurant is buzzing. There’s a line nearly out the door and the few empty tables are filling up quickly. The clientele seems to be furthering one of the team’s other goals, to make sushi accessible to everyone. It’s hard to pigeonhole the lunchtime crowd. There are senior citizens and children, manual laborers and young professionals, UD staff and students. Customers from all walks of life are here, eating sushi.
Despite the rush, the staff seems to be enjoying themselves. A vibrant aura exudes from the open kitchen as team members zip about. Watching the staff joke with customers as they transform fresh wraps, proteins, rice and veggies into made-to-order rolls, it’s hard not to feel energized here. And the food is as good as it looks. Stephan dips behind the counter to make my order, and I’m impressed with the results. My spicy salmon roll is likely some of the best sushi I’ve had.
With all of this excitement, the natural question is: what next? How does Fusian grow and stay committed to its past? The answer, not surprisingly, is consistent with the group’s core values. While the restaurant has generated a lot of interest with potential investors and franchisees, the team has made a commitment to thoughtful and organic growth. Operating partners, as the team calls their general managers, are given all the tools they need to hire, train and motivate their employees, and growth comes from within. There are plans for other locations, possibly in Columbus and downtown Dayton, but expect with their eye toward sustainability, growth will be smart and measured.
Until other locations open up, check out the UD location at 1200 Brown Street or at www.fusian.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com