Every big thing has a beginning. Chipotle Mexican Grill used to be a single burrito joint on a street corner in Denver. Cold Stone Creamery started as a mom and pop ice cream shop in Tempe, Ariz. And Whataburger was once just a stand in Corpus Christi.

The story of How Do You Roll?, which will be in at least five states by the middle of the year, begins at The Shops at Arbor Walk, on MoPac at US 183, where the company's first location opened in 2008.

Co-founder Yuen Yung was a financial planner at an Ameriprise Financial franchise at the Arboretum, and, dissatisfied with the area's lunchtime options, came up with the idea of a fast-food sushi restaurant where customers could choose their own ingredients from an array of veggies, fruits and cooked and raw meats.

He and his brother Peter, who as head chef at a fine-dining restaurant in Houston was no stranger to the business, spent about a year doing research, forming a corporate identity and honing their mission before opening the first location.

"We did OK on the first run, but we overspent to make that happen. The second, third and fourth stores we kept improving," Yuen said. "We got better quality stuff for the same pricing. We got the build-out costs down so that it was much more efficient."

The brothers began using tools—some proprietary, designed in-house and manufactured in Austin, and others shipped in from Japan—that allowed non-experts to make expert-like rolls in just a minute or two.

"It's almost like an assembly line," Yung said. "You build up the ammo and then it goes out to the front line and gets served."

After being in business a year and a half, the Yung brothers began franchising. In April 2011, nearly a year later, the first noncorporate location opened in Austin. The fifth Austin store, on RM 620, is slated for a March launch, and the Mueller development will get one soon thereafter.

There are stores in San Antonio, Houston, College Station and one that is going to open soon in San Marcos near the Texas State University campus. Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., have an HDYR? and so does Marina Del Ray, Calif. Jacksonville, Fla., just got its first store, and Gainsville, Fla., is next. Charlotte, N.C. will get two stores this year.

In total, Yuen said there are franchise agreements in the works for 40–50 more HDYR?s, and by 2016, he hopes to have 100 locations, a mix of corporate-owned and franchised shops, dotting the nation. In short, HDYR? could soon become a sushi empire, not unlike Chipotle or Cold Stone.

Yuen said that although he has been approached by larger companies interested in acquiring the business and has even considered going public, neither a sale nor a stock exchange listing is imminent.

"I am just as OK with keeping this a family business and growing it that way forever," Yuen said.

Featured rolls

For customers who can't make up their minds or who want a tried-and-true sushi recipe, How Do You Roll? has six featured rolls. Here are three:

  • 3 Alarm: Seaweed wrap, tuna, avocado, cucumber, jalapeo, tempura crunch, spicy mayo, sweet chili, sesame chili oil and chili powder ($8.95)
  • Director's Cut: Seaweed wrap, crab, eel, avocado, tofu skin, tempura crunch, wasabi mayo and unagi sauce ($8.95)
  • Slammin' Salmon: Seaweed wrap, salmon, cream cheese, jalapeo, seasonal fruit, smelt egg, spicy mayo, sesame chili oil and unagi sauce ($7.95)

A happier meal

Six months after the first How Do You Roll? opened in 2008, Yuen Yung introduced a kid's meal for children age 12 and younger.

Yung said his sons love eating at the restaurant but jokes, "I think it's just the toy [that comes with the meal] that we give them every time they come in."

Each kid's meal also comes with a fruit cup or edamame and a child-size drink ($3.99).

  • Junior roll: Five- to six-piece roll with strawberry, mandarin orange and cucumber in a soy wrap
  • Teriyaki bowl: Beef or chicken

How Do You Roll?, 10515 N. MoPac, Ste. 165A, 243-8298, www.howdoyouroll.com, Twitter: @how_do_you_roll

Open daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m.