When it Pays to Think Like a Fast Casual

Two of the four SuViche locations include a Pisco Bar—another key element in the concept’s signature ambiance.
Two of the four SuViche locations include a Pisco Bar—another key element in the concept’s signature ambiance.
SuViche / @agoisfoto / Jimena Agois

When SuViche first opened in Miami in 2010, the cofounders wanted to do something completely different than what was already available in the marketplace.

Their idea? A niche menu—Peruvian-Japanese cuisine in the form of sushi, ceviche, and various specialties, all of it developed by renowned Peruvian chef Jaime Pesaque—that was new to South Floridians, and a full-service concept that was both comfortable and affordable. There was also the brand’s Pisco Bar, which serves Peru’s national spirit along with other cocktails, beer, wine, and sake.

But not everything at SuViche, a casual restaurant that has grown to four units, is completely out of the box. There was at least one thing the founders emulated when developing the brand: the fast-casual industry.

“Our accomplishment can be seen in the marriage between [quick-service] processes and full-service standards,” says Andrei Stern, co-owner of SuViche. “At first glance from an outside perspective, the menu is daunting, complicated, and exemplifies all that a ‘chef-driven’ concept might entail. However, we have centralized and systemized these complexities in order to deliver the value and quality for which we have become known.”

The menu is indeed complex. Entrées include Ceviches, which are served with a guest’s choice of protein and include the Chifa, with teriyaki, pickled ginger, chopped avocado, sliced onions, and fried wonton crisps, and the Mexicano, with diced onions, tomatoes, and avocado; Traditos, which are sashimi-style cuts of white fish or salmon with various sauces and toppings; Sushi, with nearly two-dozen roll options; and “Tasteful Specialties,” which are plated dishes.

SuViche accommodates such a high-quality menu with helpful ideas from fast casual—ideas that allow the company to reduce wait times and the back-of-house footprint while also improving its labor pool.

In the back of the house—what SuViche’s leaders call the “heart of the house”—the team has developed a system that requires less time, manpower, and skills than other full-service concepts. This approach maximizes space and speed up service.

“We have taken these complicated processes that the Peruvian cuisine requires and streamlined them for us to be able to bring ticket times down,” says Sebastian Stahl, director of marketing. “We run a very small heart of the house [compared with] other full-service restaurants, and this allows us to be more profitable at the end of the day. We’re paying less rent; we have better revenue-generating square footage. Our products are very streamlined, very simple.”

Ryan Egozi, SuViche’s director of operations, says this process included centralizing the production and handling of SuViche’s proteins, sauces, and other more “tedious” food needs. Peruvian cuisine, he says, is “inherently complicated” and “takes time to create.” The leadership team’s work to bring a streamlined, fast-casual mentality to the kitchen simplified things “almost to mimic the simple production of a cheeseburger.”

In simplifying the processes, SuViche is not only able to get dishes out to customers quicker than if everything was made from scratch, but it’s also free to develop a crew that doesn’t require kitchen talent. Stern says this allows SuViche to hire people for personality and passion for the brand, not just skill set.

“Our goal has not been to hire people with skills, but rather hire people who think like us and have the same mentality as us and who believe in what we want to do,” he says. “If you have that component—and it’s very hard to teach that—then we think that if we bring them on, we have the right procedures and training in order to bring them up to speed skills-wise.”

The “fast-casual simplicity” in the back of the house, Egozi says, also allows SuViche and its team to focus on educating guests about Peruvian-Japanese cuisine, which is very prominent in Peru (the South American nation was a popular destination for Japanese migrants starting in the 19th century).

“The uniqueness of the combination has allowed us to create some very useful educational moments with our team members, and—through our team members—with our guests,” Egozi says. “That being said, we’ve also spent a lot of time and effort creating the menu and the dishes so that they’re as friendly as possible. You can get a foot in the door very easily with our sushi or Tasteful Specialties.”

For all the ideas SuViche borrowed from fast casual, it might seem sensible to pull the service staff together and make the restaurant a counter-service concept. But the team decided against that approach, Egozi says, because the experience they were striving to create necessitated a full-service staff.

“We examined the opportunity of a fast-casual, counter-service type of concept, but in creating the value for our guests ... we thought it was necessary in both our guests’ and our best interests to have a full-service establishment where we could really do those things,” he says.

The Pisco Bar also creates that experience. Featured at two of SuViche’s four locations, the bar highlights pisco, a high-proof spirit distilled from several types of grapes. SuViche serves signature “macerados,” which are pisco-infused cocktails with fresh herbs, fruits, and spices.

“More than anything we wanted to create a comfortable space—a place where people could come and spend a happy hour or a business lunch or a date or dinner with family, and at the same time enjoy themselves and have ample ambiance, with an approachable menu that was able to create that same expectation for multiple generations and multiple palates,” Egozi says.

This story originally appeared in QSR's June 2017 issue with the title "Think Like a Fast Casual."

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