The Origins of the Sushi Burrito: Q&A with the Inventor

You may have heard of a sushi burrito or seen a coworker eating one at their desk. Or maybe you even enjoy a sushi burrito on a regular basis. But if you’re unfamiliar with this delicious portable meal, now is the time to get acquainted.

A sushi burrito is pretty much exactly what it sounds like — delicious sushi ingredients, including raw fish, rice, and veggies, wrapped up nice and neat into a burrito-shaped roll. Typically, they are assembled just like sushi rolls with the protein and other fillings in the middle, followed by a layer of rice, then wrapped tightly with sheets of nori, aka seaweed. The sushi burrito has blown up in recent years and can be found at all types of fast-casual restaurants and food halls that serve hungry lunchtime crowds and folks looking to grab a quick, filling, fairly healthy meal.

sushi burrito sushirrito
Sushirrito

By now, we’ve already seen a lot of places slinging the delicacy come and go. But the home of the original sushi burrito, Sushirrito, is still going strong. So we caught up with Sushirrito founder Peter Yen to learn about how the sushi burrito first came to life and how they come up with different flavor combinations to keep things delicious and interesting.

The Manual: What sparked the idea for the sushi burrito?

Peter Yen: In 2004 … I was working in downtown San Francisco and got bored with the usual lunch options. I started wondering why there weren’t more choices other than the typical sandwich, soup, and salad options.

“What would happen if you made a really large sushi roll, operationalized it for speed, and also modernized it by infusing Latin flavors?”

I particularly liked sushi, but there were only two possibilities at the time. One was pre-made grocery sushi which was fast and convenient, but of lower quality and not a great value. The other was full-service sit-down sushi restaurants which were slow and pricey. I realized quickly that sushi’s form had a lot of limitations for fast throughput, so I asked, “What would happen if you made a really large sushi roll, operationalized it for speed, and also modernized it by infusing Latin flavors?” That seemed intriguing, but I didn’t really take the business idea seriously until I was in business school in 2008.

TM: Was there an original “formula” or ingredient list for the first sushi burrito? How have you decided on new types of fish or fillings to add to your menu?

PY: When I first met my executive chef and co-founder Ty Mahler in 2010, I asked him to create different rolls using tuna, hamachi, salmon, chicken, and one that was vegetarian. His first question was, “You want to put chicken into a sushi roll?” He was skeptical of what I was trying to create. But he quickly adapted and started creating so many different recipes. I remember our first tasting was of about 30 sauces and nothing else. He was very disciplined in getting that right, then moved onto the proper type of sushi rice and seasoning, different proteins, vegetable combinations, and then the operations. He always focused not only on balanced flavors but also on great textures in every roll. From there, it was just lots and lots of “R&D” (aka eating!).

TM: If someone was ordering a sushi burrito for the first time, what would you recommend they fill it with?

PY: Unlike a lot of recent fast-casual concepts, we actually don’t allow for full customizability with our menu. Each sushi burrito was designed with a different palate in mind, so each provides varying amounts of texture and flavor (saltiness, sweetness, tanginess, nuttiness, spiciness). So, it really depends on your personal preference. The best thing is to see what appeals to you first from a protein standpoint and then go from there.

TM: As the founder and CER (chief executive roller), what is your go-to Sushirrito order?

PY: I get that question a lot actually, and it’s a tough one to answer. It really depends what I’m in the mood for. But typically, if I want raw fish, I’ll go for the Satori (hamachi, cucumber, pickled onion, ginger guac). If I want something cooked, I usually go for the Salmon Samba or the Fiery Chicken. I’m not vegetarian, but I also really enjoy the Buddha Belly (Japanese eggplant, mushrooms, cabbage, carrots, ginger guac, kale, fried shallots). But as you can imagine, I’ve eaten the entire menu many, many times over, and I do enjoy them all — otherwise, we would adjust or remove the roll. We are also constantly testing out new items as well, so I’m usually eating. Not too shabby of a job to have I’d say!

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