With Washington being situated on the West Coast, we have easier access to fresh fish than many other states. Some people love sushi, some have tried it and didn’t like it, and others have no desire to eat raw fish. Isaac Cunnington, one of five founders who pitched at the Founder’s Live competition in Spokane Valley last month, is helping sushi lovers, novices, and people with bad first-time sushi experiences revolutionize their sushi experience.
“Many people who’ve had bad first-time sushi experiences (like me) decide from that experience that they don’t like sushi. But sometimes it’s a matter of not having experienced high-quality, fresh ingredients that are tailored to their tastes. And for another, having sushi at restaurants is often incredibly expensive!! I decided to change that,” Isaac shares.
Isaac grew up in Spokane Valley and has been living in Coeur d’Alene for the last several years. While studying at the University of Idaho, his brother was going through server training at an Asian fusion restaurant. Isaac helped his brother with his training, and when it was time to eat the sushi, he plugged his nose and ate the sushi like a champ.
When they got their bill, Isaac was blown away by how expensive their sushi dining experience was: “I remember saying to my brother, ‘How did we spend so much money on so little food?’ He said to me, ‘Well, you have to have the right ingredients, the right rice, and 10 years of experience to become a sushi master.’ I told my brother I could do that, and he didn’t think I could. On a dare, I decided to take on the challenge of learning how to make good sushi myself.”
From that day on, Isaac watched many Youtube videos, paid attention to the techniques of sushi chefs at local restaurants, and began teaching his brother, family, friends, and anyone and everyone who would listen how to make sushi. Before long, he found himself making sushi for a couple friends and buying his ingredients from the Fisherman’s market. He discovered they were hiring, and decided to get paid to use his new skills.
As he continued his culinary crash course into sushi, a friend wanted Isaac to teach a party of 12 people to make sushi. Isaac recounts, “I’d never done an event that big before. I thought it was a disaster! We ran out of rice, fish, vegetables, and everything down to the nubs. But they LOVED it! One guest asked me how much I charged for these events, and I told her: ‘I love to teach and I love sushi. You can just pay for the ingredients.’ She said to me, ‘I would’ve paid $800 for this!’”
A couple weeks after that event, Isaac was laid off from his job and decided to double down on his own skills and the interest he had sparked at his last event. He started by putting out an ad for teaching others to make sushi at home, and slowly got one gig after the next. Before long he found himself in business, and My Sushi Sensei was launched two years ago.
Isaac has stepped into the business world just as he first stepped into the sushi world: he asks lots of questions, learns and experiments as he goes, reflects on what worked, and evolves. “At first it was simply ‘teach people how to make sushi’ and then we dialed in how much ingredients are needed per person and created milestones to achieve,” Isaac explains.
At present, My Sushi Sensei has grown from Isaac’s one-man show to include two other chefs who teach people how to make sushi, and another teacher coming on board. To date, the most people they’ve taught to make sushi at one time was 60 people at an event for the Manito Golfing Club. Isaac is eager to have more events (of all sizes) to share their knowledge and skills on making sushi with more families, community members, and organizations.
“A major tenet of our mission and values is giving back to the community that has supported us. We’ve donated to 15 charity auction events and raised over $30,000 for them in the last 1.5 years. We are big fans of kids and education and love to donate sushi events to organizations that are involved with kids and education. One of the events we donated to the Children’s Village in CDA went for over $4,000 at the live auction.”
In addition to teaching people to make sushi themselves, Isaac developed a sushi starter kit people can purchase after many of his clients asked if that was something he offered. “When I looked online at the sushi kits that are available, they all had way too many items, and those items were poor quality. I don’t want to offer something that just takes up space in people’s lives. The kit I created has five items: chopsticks, chopstick rest, soy sauce dish, bamboo mat to roll your sushi, and our headband. People can use them over and over again to make and enjoy their sushi without cluttering up their kitchen,” Isaac explains.