Referencing the Boston bar and popular TV show, owners Judy Yoon and Mike Kim want their customers to eat quality sushi and Japanese dishes without the formalities or prices of high-end sushi bars. Their goal is “good sushi, good food and good vibes.”
“We want to be the place where ‘everybody knows your name’—because we do,” said Yoon, referencing the “Cheers” TV show’s theme song.
Kim heads the sushi preparation, and Yoon runs the kitchen. Though the restaurant creates plenty of sushi roll options, traditional tempura, teriyaki and katsu dinners are also served.
Yoon said their “hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop” restaurant uses top ingredients and cuts of fish, and no cheap or frozen ingredients. Yoon and Kim shop locally for ingredients, though they have seen annual price hikes due to fish demand.
As former South Austinites, Yoon and Kim picked Leander as their restaurant’s home because it did not yet have a sushi place. Since opening on Aug. 1, 2015, they have watched Leander food diversify beyond a motley of burger, pizza and Mexican restaurants.
“We wanted to bring a bit of different culture to Leander,” Yoon said.
Kai Sushi celebrated its five-year anniversary on Aug. 1, and a pandemic was not Yoon and Kim’s ideal way to celebrate. Quick action to offer to-go and delivery orders kept their kitchen afloat, but Yoon says their biggest loss is seeing customers’ faces.
“I don’t even see my family as much as we see our customers,” she said. “So they’re practically like our extended family.”
Since closing the dining room in March, Yoon has seen social media posts with customers taking their to-go orders and plating them at home like at a restaurant. Other customers have had sushi car dates in the Kai Sushi parking lot. Yoon said it feels good when people appreciate your food; it means so much, she said.
“We just want to make good food,” Yoon said. “Food brings people together even though we can’t come here to eat.”
Yoon and Kim hope to reopen their doors soon, but for now the restaurant is offering curbside pickup and deliveries. Happy hours are also on hiatus, but half-price wine bottles and sake are available.
Kai Sushi is located at 1805 Hwy. 183, Ste. 400, Leander. 512-456-0147. www.kaisushitexas.com