Fusian

Customer:

Zach and Josh Weprin grew up in an entrepreneurial household where owning a business was a way of life. So, when the time came to apply what they learned in college, they decided to enter the restaurant business with their childhood friend, Stephan Harman. Zach and Stephan had been working as hotel bellmen in a ski resort town and found themselves eating out most of the time. As their dining experiences grew, so did their passion for sushi, and they worked to learn all they could about the market.

One of the things they noticed was that sushi was a bit of a mystery to a lot of people, with many either too afraid to try it or just not sure how to order it. That’s when they realized that launching a fast-casual sushi restaurant could be a winning formula. They envisioned a place where customers could see the ingredients, choose only what they like, get recommendations from the sushi chef and have protein options other than seafood. Zach and Stephan moved back closer to home, joined up with Josh, who was working in commercial real estate at the time, and began planning and scouting locations for their first restaurant.

Challenge:

With some financial help from family, the three opened as SOHO Sushi in May 2010 and started learning on the fly. The first few weeks, they admit, posed more challenges than they were expecting. However, they quickly addressed the challenges, got the right equipment and people in place, and established a mantra: “We strive to deliver an unmet spirit in dining culture where people can feel great about trying something new and eating well.” That mantra drives every decision and customer interaction to ensure a high-quality, satisfying dining experience every time.

Before long, the restaurant had lines out the door at lunchtime, with many of the customers coming back day after day to try something new or bring their friends. Convinced that the concept and initial execution were on track, the partners realized they needed a stronger brand that could work in multiple locations, so they hired a marketing firm and relaunched as FUSIAN, opening a second location in late 2011. The growth continued and by late 2012, they were looking for a third location, but this time they knew they would need a banking partner—one that would be able to help them secure the funding they needed to keep up with the growth.

Solution:

Zach, Josh and Stephan reached out to their local KeyBank branch and began to build a relationship with the team there, sharing their plans for expansion and need for funding. They were already familiar with the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan program, having done some research because they knew that restaurant financing can be challenging, as they typically have relatively light collateral resources. Fortunately, SBA loan programs offer a more lenient approach to shortfalls than traditional loans, so they began the application and documentation process. Soon, they had the funding they needed to open that third location.

As an SBA Preferred Lender, KeyBank understands the SBA loan programs and is able to walk clients through requirements and options, answering any questions along the way. Zach credits the experience of the KeyBank team with making the loan happen, saying that everything went smoothly and noting that FUSIAN has continued to work with KeyBank on additional funding as it opened more locations. The partners have plans for further expansion, something that will be enabled by their ongoing KeyBank relationship.

Results:

Now boasting 12 locations and growing, FUSIAN is committed to making sushi more accessible with a dining experience that is healthy, educational and fun. From the design of the restaurants to the attitude of the employees, everything is geared toward ensuring that FUSIAN is an important part of the community where people enjoy gathering and eating.

As part of the growth strategy, the partners have launched other programs that help to change consumer perception and behavior as they relate to sushi. Recently, they began a Sushi in Schools program, where they send a sushi chef into the local schools to do demos and provide samples. They believe that by showing how sushi is made and how it can be tailored to individual tastes, more people will realize how good it can be. They’ve also opened a new consumer-facing test kitchen to develop new dishes that meet the varying tastes and preferences of their customer base.



"FUSIAN is more than just a business for us—it’s about pursuing our passion and helping to change consumer behavior. We knew that finding funding would be a challenge, but KeyBank understood our vision and worked with us to make it happen. This has turned into a lasting relationship."
– Zach Weprin, Co-founder, FUSIAN