Good to Go is a column where our food writers explore Dallas' restaurant scene through takeout orders, delivery boxes and reheated leftovers.
We were told via text to meet at the back of a parking lot and to look for a white car with the window down (yes, just one window). The timeline was iffy too, in the text he said he was aiming for 5 p.m., but that he would keep us posted if things changed.
My friend who had also placed an order texted me, “This feels like a drug deal.”
Sushi Dojo has been serving sushi at Kroger in North Richland Hills for the past five years, and owner Ryan Nguyen had been anxious to expand. While they had thought about a brick-and-mortar location, after financing details fell through, his girlfriend suggested a food truck.
In March, they launched their food truck business, Sushi Dojo, exactly one week before shelter-in-place was ordered.
“Everything closed,” Nguyen says defeatedly. Five years to build a business, then the carpet was pulled out from under him. It’s one of many small business stories right now.
But, also like many others, they quickly adjusted their game plan. They’re now serving platters of sushi around North Texas through pop-up deliveries. Each week they post which days they'll be and where on their Facebook page; locations include Lantana, Argyle, McKinney/Trophy Club, Arlington, Garland or Frisco. (They're still working on finding a market in Dallas.)
And as soon as they post that update, their fans lose their minds. The comments are flooded with questions about when and where and why and please come out here again and what’s that photo of? You can feel a fanaticism that borders on hysteria. There’s a real eagerness to these comments.
That’s why driving around an overly crowded parking lot on a Friday afternoon trying to find sushi isn't that weird.
Sushi Dojo uses Google Forms, which are posted on their Facebook page, to take orders. The rolls and platters are then assembled at Nguyen’s sushi bar inside Kroger the day of, then immediately packed in coolers and delivered to the pop-up location.
When picking up an order, Nguyen and his friend, Chu Pham, are easy to spot: They both wear black chef coats over all black clothing, face masks and gloves. As customers walk up, they give their name and their platters are quickly handed to them.
Payments are taken the day before via Venmo, providing an opportunity for less contact and ensuring they don’t get left with food from no-shows.
When Nguyen hands over the platter, it's chilled on the bottom, like it had been sitting directly on ice. As they pull other platters out of their large cooler, every so often they pull out a large ice pack. They work fast to keep orders and people moving.
So, why not deliver the food in his food truck? Nguyen says it’s kind of a burden to drive. In all, it’s 24 feet long and they can simply get across North Texas more easily in a car.
With the help of some great photos and the Google Form, choosing what to order is also easy. You can select individual rolls or "quarantine platters" for $40, $60 or $80. The Jackie, which they say feeds four to six people, is plentiful, probably enough for six to eight people. Everything tasted fresh.
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Nguyen has always fancied himself an entrepreneur, and in terms of adjusting on the fly, he seems to have done so well. In late March, they were taking 30 orders a day; now Nguyen isn’t sure if they even need the truck.
Like many we've spoken to recently, preorders are saving them. They know exactly how much food they’ll need and are able to parse down the costs and timing appropriately.
So, even if the atypical experience feels sketchy, no worries. Once you meet the guys at Sushi Dojo and see how meticulously they handle the orders and parking lot deliveries, you’ll feel good about it. Not in a drug deal way, but in a happy-stomach way.
Sushi Dojo can be found on Facebook.