Have you ever had fresh fish from Hawaii over-nighted to your house? How about gourmet seaweed from Japan Fed-exed to your back door? It’s a luxury not many of us could afford but thanks to Sabaku, Moab’s only sushi bar, anyone in red rock country can get those delicacies six nights a week just a block off Main Street.
“We get three orders of fresh fish Fedexed in on ice a week,” said Rikki Epperson, Sabaku’s general manager. “We only buy the best quality stuff.”
But good sushi isn’t just about the quality of the ingredients; it’s also about the hand that cuts them. And the hands of owners Alex Borichevsky and Frankie Winfrey are no strangers to the cutting board.
“I’ve worked at about ten different sushi bars,” Winfrey said. “Alex has worked at a few too.”
The pair met for the first time ten years ago while working at Snow Bird, a ski resort. They worked there for several years, coming down to Moab in the summers: Winfrey for the mountain biking and Borichevsky for the rafting.
“We were both always surprised there wasn’t a sushi bar in Moab, we both would have wanted to work there,” Winfrey said.
The idea to fill that niche occurred to them separately, but in 2009 they decided to join forces and make Sabaku a reality. They started looking for properties. The first place they seriously considered was where the Off the Wall gallery currently sits, but that didn’t work out.
“The same week our first option fell through we heard that a comic book shop and the thread store behind it gave notice,” Borichevsky said. “It was like it was meant to be.”
To get the restaurant up and running the pair enlisted the help of their friends.
“It started out with river kids that all knew Alex,” Epperson said.
Some of that first group of staff knew either Borichevsky or Winfrey during their Snow Bird days. And two of the original Snow Bird crew, Josh Strain and Lenore McDonough, are still there today.
Things were a little slow that first year.
“Since we weren’t on Main Street, lots of people didn’t realize we were here,” Winfrey said, who focuses more on the food end of things, leaving Borichevsky in charge of the business side. “But after that first year things were more consistent at the sushi bar, the customers were more consistent too.”
Business has doubled for the sushi bar in its second year.
Being responsible environmentally and socially is a big part of Sabaku’s business model. The restaurant uses only biodegradable products and composts everything that they can. “We even have a guy that comes in and gets the fish scraps to feed his chickens,” Epperson said.
Minimizing waste is one of the key ways Sabaku’s keeps the price of its sushi down, Borichevsky said. He believes that since they base their prices on competitive city prices, Sabaku sushi is cheap for a resort town.
A good deal of effort is also put into getting as much produce from local farmers as possible. During the summer months seven farmers from around the area bring their produce to the sushi bar. It has worked out well and by next year Borichevsky hopes to start getting all their produce locally, for eight to ten months of the year.
In addition to sushi, the management of Sabaku also have a passion for art, most of which comes from local artist they know, such as Arlo Tejada.
Getting locals in the door is important to Sabaku. Part of their menu is specifically tailored for locals and a big part of their pricing is designed for “folks that don’t have a lot of money and want to go out for a good time for just a couple of bucks,” Borichevksy said.
They offer a frequent diner card as well.
When asked what the biggest challenge has been, Borichevsky smiled.
“Having to act like the father of a big family! We try to promote everyone working as a team. When the first of the original group left the people we hired figured out quick that (Sabaku) is like a big family,” he said.