I often consider myself very lucky to be living in California, not just because of the beautiful weather we enjoy here most of the year but also because California has a substantial Japanese population which draws industry to this state. It is amazing how many Japanese based stores and restaurants consider California their U.S.-based headquarters. Auto manufacturers like Toyota, stores like Daiso and restaurants like Kula all originated in Japan and are now thriving in California.
A recent visit to the Torrance location of Kula Sushi (http://www.kulausa.com/) enticed me to write about it on my blog. Kula is a kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi restaurant operated by the Kura Corporation (http://www.kura-corpo.co.jp/eng/ ) in Osaka, Japan, which began business in May of 1977. Currently, there are well over 3,000 kaiten sushi shops in Japan and the industry is still going strong.
Kula employs 978 regular full-time employees and 6,981 part-time employees, generating a revenue of 5 Billion Yen according to 2010 reports. The organization has stated that it managed 285 restaurants as of October 2011 and targeted growing that number to 385 restaurants in 2014! With the basic concept of providing “Safe, tasty and inexpensive” menu items, Kula not only thrives in Japan but has expanded its operations overseas starting in 2007.
Currently there are seven Kula Sushi restaurants in southern California:
Sawtelle Store(West Los Angeles)
2130 Sawtelle Blvd., Unit 111, Los Angeles, CA 90025
9659 Milliken Ave., Suite 104-105, Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91730
065 Brea Mall Suite 2050A Brea, CA 92821
1840 W. 182nd St. Torrance, CA 90504
24155 Laguna Hills Mall Space 1080A, Laguna Hills, CA 92653
333 E. 2nd St., Los Angeles , CA 90012
2700 Alton Pkwy,Suite 133 Irvine,CA 92606
Kaiten sushi is a simple concept. Plates with the sushi are placed on a rotating conveyor belt that winds through the restaurant and moves past every table and counter seat. Customers may place special orders, but most simply pick their selections from a steady stream of fresh sushi moving along the conveyor belt. The final bill is based on the number and type of plates of the consumed sushi.
At Kula Sushi, every plate is the same green color and every piece of sushi costs $2.00 per plate. In addition to the sushi, customers can get bowls of udon and ramen, gyoza and chicken karage (fried chicken.) among other hot dishes. Kula even serves dessert like warabi mochi and green tea ice cream. (The green tea ice cream does not travel along the conveyor belt, for obvious reasons.)
There are soft drinks, tea, beer and sake (hot or cold) to satisfy every taste and budget.
The Japanese Kula restaurants employ a computer touch panel screen at every table where patrons can select their menu items and it will be delivered to their table directly from the kitchen via an adorable shinkansen (bullet train) that runs on a track above the rotating conveyor belt. The Torrance restaurant has not yet adopted the touch screens but I suspect that with the growing popularity of kaiten sushi restaurants and Kula’s desire to lead market share, changes will be coming.
So whether you live in California or are planning a future visit, incorporate a day at Kula Sushi and get a taste of Japan without leaving the U.S. It is an experience you will enjoy and won’t soon forget. Or perhaps this experience will prompt you to plan a future trip to Japan to sample all that this amazing country has to offer.