Training the Customer – ICHI Dozo’s Tim and Erin Archuleta on EAST SIDE SUSHI

by Risa Nye

With the scheduled opening of East Side Sushi  approaching, I thought it might be fun to pull back the curtain and ask Tim and Erin Archuleta, co-owners of San Francisco’s award-winning and top-rated ICHI Sushi and ICHI Kakiya restaurants, for their takes on the film.

Following an advance screening, I asked them to shed some light on the details of the story from an insider’s point of view. (Tim has over twenty years’ experience as a sushi chef and is the executive chef at the restaurants he and Erin own and operate.) We had such a good time during our previous conversation for EatDrinkFilms, I looked forward to hearing what they had to say. Here are my questions and their responses. Enjoy!

Q. So, any first impressions?

A. The scene with Juana’s family and trying to get her dad and daughter to eat sushi was hilarious. And very accurate. This was just like trying to feed our own families sushi. Tim has never once fed his parents sushi in the twenty years he’s been making it. Erin’s parents from Flint [MI] took the plunge! Her mom is still a hold-out on fish in general, though.

Production still from East Side Sushi. Credit: Courtesy of Anthony Lucero

Production still from East Side Sushi. Credit: Courtesy of Anthony Lucero

Q. Tim, were there any roadblocks you encountered at the beginning of your career as a “nontraditional” sushi chef?

A. My background was never an issue with the chefs training me, but it definitely was an issue with my customers. Because I was not Japanese, I had to work extra hard to demonstrate that my sushi was as good as anyone else’s.

Q. Do you think the actors did a good job of portraying the atmosphere and formality of the bar?

A. Yes, except no mixing of wasabi and soy. The guacamole line was really funny.

Q. Was that a realistic number of sake boxes? And could you explain a little bit about the ritual of offering a sake to the chef?

A. It seems to be more of a tradition in America than (in) Japan. It’s very possible to have that many sake boxes at a well-loved neighborhood restaurant.

Production still from East Side Sushi. Credit: Courtesy of Anthony Lucero

Production still from East Side Sushi. Credit: Courtesy of Anthony Lucero

Q. Is that bit about ordering non-sushi items at the bar a thing? I thought the “training the customer” line was related to the lovely mural at ICHI Sushi. Is training the customer part of what the chefs do there also?

A. We loved and laughed with the line, “You train the customer, don’t let them train you.” It’s true, if sushi becomes a personalized preference of the diner, it is often no longer reflective of traditional sushi. Sushi chefs accept sushi orders in the interest of execution and time. It takes between eight and ten steps to make a single piece of nigiri in our sushi bar. Servers are an essential part of the dynamic to keep the meal moving. And, servers in sushi bars are required to have an enormous knowledge base of Japanese ingredients and preparation methods to guide diners.

Q. Have you heard that women’s hands are too warm to make sushi? Are there any women “out front” in any restaurants you know about? Do you know of any women sushi chefs today?

A. Here in San Francisco, women would be welcomed in a sushi bar. I don’t personally know any women making sushi here in the Bay Area. If you are a sushi chef, come work with us!

Q. What did you think about the fish selection scene?

A. The fish selection scene is accurate in that drivers bring your fish. Everyone has this romantic notion that sushi chefs go to the market and handpick fish off boats. That would be impossible. We butcher so many fish that we need every second of preparation time. Our relationship with our fish purveyors is essential, and we do inspect every fish that’s delivered. That said, our purveyors are the finest and our relationship is very good. We also love our delivery crew!

Q. Is the “no talking” rule routinely followed? In the movie, no talking equals no spitting near the food!

A. It’s a formality of keeping distance between the guest and the chef. It’s no longer practiced now, as spitting isn’t really a concern, and diners in America want to connect personally with their chefs.

Q. We see Juana’s early mistakes with the rice. Are there any early mistakes you’d care to share?

A. Learning the balance between how moist your hands need to be to keep the rice from sticking to them is one of the greatest challenges of being a sushi chef.

Production still from East Side Sushi. Credit: Courtesy of Anthony Lucero

Production still from East Side Sushi. Credit: Courtesy of Anthony Lucero

Q. Is there anything to add to the cucumber slicing event? Any other essential skills they didn’t mention or address in the film?

A. Chopping Negi, or green onion, into the thinnest slices is an early determinant of skill. Also: When training, sushi chefs begin first with rolls and then graduate to nigiri (in America where the training is expedited). It would be ten years before you’d be allowed to make nigiri in Japan.

The scene where she places the chopsticks in the rice is very real—that would be considered very disrespectful.

Q. Did you think the writer/director told a good story? Was this a fair depiction of a typical sushi restaurant in a place like the Bay Area?

A. The writer/director told an engaging story of the influence of cultures that enrich the Bay Area and the family’s struggle to survive. It felt like the writer knew the family, seeing the limited options of the father in the workforce and the parent giving every penny to put her child into the best school she’s able.

The restaurant was an accurate depiction. In this film, the owner needed to be the conflict in the story so that Juana would have a triumph. The camaraderie amongst sushi chefs is very real, and sharing a passion and dedication to constantly improving one’s work makes for a tight-knit and loyal crew.

Q. How likely is it that the type of Mexican/Japanese mashups Juana created will show up on a traditional sushi menu?

A. Not likely on a traditional menu, but very common in a Bay Area sushi restaurant.

East Side Sushi tells a story of dedication, skill, and perseverance in the face of great resistance. It’s an impressive accomplishment for all involved: on both sides of the camera as well as back in the kitchen and behind the sushi bar.

To Tim and Erin Archuleta: arigato gozaimasu for your time and insights!Horizontal RuleEAST SIDE SUSHI

Opens Friday, September 18, 2015 at Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco, Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley, Camera 12 in San Jose, Maya Cinemas in Salinas, Maya Cinemas in Pittsburgh, Maya Cinemas in Bakersfield and Maya Cinemas in Fresno. Opens Friday, September 25, 2015 at Rialto Cinemas Sebastopol in Sebastopol.

Read “Critics Corner: EAST SIDE SUSHI” in issue 73 of EatDrinkFilms.

Read Risa Nye’s EatDrinkFilms profile of Tim and Erin Archuleta here.

See our Eat My Shorts short feature by East Side Sushi director Anthony Lucero.Horizontal RuleErinArchuletaErin Archuleta co-owns the award-winning company ICHI Dozo Restaurant Group (ICHI Sushi + NI Bar, ICHI Kakiya, and ICHI To Go) with her husband Tim Archuleta, and previously held the position of Director of Field Operations and Strategy for the literacy nonprofit 826 National.

Erin offers a strong background in business, public relations and the San Francisco food community. She is a board member of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association and of the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA); co-founded the Mission Bernal Merchants Association; and as a graduate of the Leadership San Francisco 2012 class, became a Trustee of the City of San Francisco. 

ICHI Sushi has been named one of America’s Top Restaurants by Zagat; one of USA Today’s 10 Best Japanese Restaurants in San Francisco; a San Francisco Chronicle Top 100 Restaurant; one of the Top 21 Sushi Bars in the US by Thrillist editors; voted Hottest Restaurant in 2014 by Eater SF readers, Best Sushi in San Francisco by 7×7 readers; and received the San Francisco Mayor’s Small Business Award in 2014.

Erin is a native of Flint, Michigan, a graduate of Western Michigan University’s Lee Honors College, and received their Alumni Achievement Award in 2014.


TimArchuletaTim Archuleta co-owns the award-winning company, ICHI Dozo Restaurant Group (ICHI Sushi + NI Bar, ICHI Kakiya, and ICHI To Go) with his wife Erin Archuleta.

Tim has twenty years of experience as a sushi chef and over ten years of experience managing restaurant kitchens. Tim is civically and culinary engaged. Tim has co-hosted a fish market tour for the International Association of Culinary Professionals annual conference, and participated in the San Francisco debut of the Asian culinary LUCKYRICE festival, featuring Chef Morimoto. Tim has participated as a Celebrity Chef offering up demonstration tips at San Francisco magazine’s FallFest and the Asian American Heritage Street Festival. Tim is a member of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Tim participates as a volunteer chef in The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA)’s Sunday Supper and Summer Celebrations which support the Ferry Building Farmers Market and education programs; is a volunteer educator for the food and community nonprofit 18 Reasons; and is a supporter of local, sustainable agriculture and fisheries.

ICHI Sushi has been named one of America’s Top Restaurants (Zagat National 2013), one of San Francisco’s Top Twenty (Zagat San Francisco 2013), has won Best of the Bay in five outlets; Best Japanese 2012—2015 by 7×7 magazine readers; a Small Business Week Award, 2014 from San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee, and scored high praise from the San Francisco Chronicle as offering one of Restaurant Critic Michael Bauer’s Favorite Dishes; and was selected as one of he San Francisco Chronicle‘s Top 100 Restaurants 2014. Tim’s cooking has been featured in the New York Times; USA Today Travel; AAA’s VIA magazine; the Hollywood Reporter; Louis Vuitton’s San Francisco City Guide; Lonely Planet’s San Francisco and Encounter guides; the San Francisco Chronicle; the San Francisco Examiner; San Francisco magazine; 7×7 magazine; Edible: San Francisco; Meatpaper magazine; Specialty Food Magazine; Athlete’s Quarterly; KQED’s Bay Area Bites; and on NBC KRON 4, and Tokyo TV, as well as in numerous blogs.

Tim is a native of Sacramento, California, and formerly apprenticed under the tutelage of Sensei Chef Kiyoshi Hayakawa at Tokyo GoGo and Ace Wasabi in San Francisco. Twitter:



Risa Nye lives in Oakland.  Her articles and essays have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, The Monthly, Hippocampus magazine, and several anthologies. She writes about cocktails as Ms. Barstool for Nosh at and about other things at

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