The Rapidian

Maru Sushi to open in East Hills

Robert Song, owner of Maru Sushi in Okemos, plans to go back to the basics and focus on quality food and the customer experience in the opening of his new location.
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/Maru Sushi

/Maru Sushi

Robert Song, owner of Maru Sushi in Okemos, is expanding to open a second location in East Hills. The new restaurant, set in front of Brewery Vivant, will open later this summer.

Song is competing with a string of other restaurants that have opened in the area this summer, including Trillium Haven and Radix Tavern. He insists his will stand out because of the quality of the food combined with excellent customer service.

“We are different because we are a chef-driven restaurant,” Song says. “Everybody right now is trying to use local and organic products and of course we will try our best to do that too, but what we really want to achieve is having somebody in the kitchen and at the bar spending time with the customer that is worthwhile for them.”

While “worthwhile” may mean something different for every customer, Song believes that dining should be an enjoyable experience for everybody.

“Food should be fun. It should not be so cerebral that you don’t understand every other word on the menu,” says Song. “I’ve been to those restaurants. You have a difficult time pronouncing an item and the servers look at you with a snobby face.”

His mission is to not let situations like these happen in his restaurant. Those unfamiliar with sushi can feel comfortable in the restaurant, says Song.

“Dining in my restaurant may be a learning experience for some. If it becomes an educational experience, we will do our best to encourage that. But at the end of the meal, if they thought that it was a fun and worthwhile experience, then that will make my day,” he says.

Grand Rapids felt like a natural choice for Song to open a second location.

“I ordered furniture for my restaurant in Okemos from a vendor in Grand Rapids four years ago. Since then I have been to visit the [Frederick Meijer] Gardens, downtown, and through a mutual friend I was introduced to a local real-estate broker. He showed me the spot and I liked it right away,” Song says.

Grand Rapids also offered another appealing aspect to Song.

“I drive I-96 on my way here every time that I come to visit. Lately, I’ve seen more and more ‘Cool City. Hot Eats.' You don’t know how excited I am to be a part of this ‘Cool City’ and ‘Hot Eats’. Hopefully people in Grand Rapids will recognize Maru as being one of those ‘Hot Eats,’” he says.

Song says the restaurant will open by the end of August or early September.

“If you ask any restaurant owner to tell you a start date and they give you a specific date, they’re lying. You just don’t know. What lies ahead is a lot more important than the actual birth date,” says Song.

When the restaurant opens later this summer, Song expects to grow slowly while learning from experiences along the way. The menu will start small and simplified as the staff becomes comfortable with the preparation and serving of the food.

“I’m a big believer in growing slowly because there is a big delivery in growing slowly,” Song says. “There is no better practice than actually serving customers. Once I feel that my staff has conquered that, then we can step forward.”

Song has seen firsthand how growing too quickly can negatively affect business.

“I’ve worked with people who want to conquer the world in the first day, first week, first month. Maybe they do well at first, but they’ll begin to nosedive, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly,” says Song.

Song plans to let the food speak for itself at Maru Sushi.

“The best marketing is taking care of your customers," Song says. "If the food and service is bad, then your restaurant will not work. I’m looking at the bigger picture to ensure that this does not happen to my restaurant."

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