Peoria loves Happy Fish Sushi.
The city loves it so much, the restaurant is closed for a few days to regroup after a stellar opening weekend.
Head chef and owner Allen Sickles said the response to the new CampusTown restaurant was incredible, with a packed house at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.
“Not even the Olive Garden is full at that time on a Tuesday,” he said. “I couldn’t even fathom the volume.”
Sickles got his sushi start working at Sushi Gawa in Peoria. Later, he moved to Chicago where he cooked at the Fairmont Hotel, then attended culinary school before moving to Houston and working as a chef there. All in all, he’s been a chef for about eight years and a professional sushi chef for about four.
His mission is to “bring the city into a small city” by introducing high-quality sushi with strong flavors to an area that he says is used to “bland” tastes.
“The sushi is different in Houston,” he said. “There’s more flavor, people are more friendly to spicy stuff.”
Happy Fish will concentrate on high-quality ingredients while keeping costs low enough for students’ wallets.
Fish is flown in overnight, which means operating costs are “outrageously expensive,” Sickles said. But that’s the price he pays to ensure customers are happy.
“I want every customer to walk out of here ecstatic,” he said. “I don’t mind sacrificing some profit for good food.”
Senior organizational communication and business management major Shantaye Wonzer is a server at the restaurant and said its proximity and prices will make it a student favorite.
“Having this right across the street, it’s going to be a great place to just come in and grab a quick roll between classes,” she said. “You can go to Center Court and get a sandwich, chips and a drink for $7, or you can come here and get a fresh sushi roll for $4 to $6, and it’s a lot healthier and yummier.”
Prices for traditional rolls, including the California Roll, Tuna Roll and Salmon Roll are $4. Special rolls range from $5 to $10, and the restaurant’s Crab Rangoon, the “best in the city,” according to Sickles, is $5.
The restaurant will introduce unique and exotic flavors while still keeping the food “American-friendly,” he said. This is evident in the Bradley Roll, tuna and cream cheese that’s been fried and served with spicy aioli and unagi sauce.
The restaurant also serves tempura ice cream – red bean or green tea ice cream, frozen rock-solid then battered and fried.
Sickles said he also hopes to bring hot pots to the menu. The dish includes a small gas burner brought to the table, with a pot filled with boiling broth. Guests get a variety of ingredients, such as veggies, shrimp, chicken or beef, to cook in the broth, then eat in a bowl of their own soup. Sickles likened the dish to fondue.
“I’m passionate about what I do and everything I make is tricky,” he said, which is why Happy Fish is seeking to train another sushi chef, a process which takes about six months. Until then, Sickles will continue to turn out high-quality ingredients in unique dishes.
And if you don’t like sushi, don’t worry.
“If there’s nothing on the menu you like, I’ll make you something,” he said. “We focus on making people happy.”