Sushi-making robot helps high-end restaurant survive pandemic

At a time when restaurants across the New York area started to struggle amid the COVID-19 pandemic, somehow Kissaki on the Lower East Side managed to thrive.

The high-end sushi restaurant just opened on Bowery in January. It offers a $160 Omakase menu, which means the chef chooses what the customer will eat. Each bite is an exciting surprise. When the pandemic hit, Kissaki didn't have a takeout or delivery menu set up yet. So, owner Garry Kanfer had to get creative.

"We needed to mass produce for the hospitals so we decided the robot was the best option for us, plus there were less hands touching the fish," Kanfer said.

Thanks to donations and this new sushi-making machine, the restaurant was able to feed nearly 2,000 healthcare workers on the frontlines.

On May 1, Kissaki launched a takeout and delivery menu and started to rake in about $55,000 a week, close to what it was earning before the pandemic. A second location opened in Midtown and started importing fish directly from Japan because local distributors didn't have access to some of the fresh fish they needed due to COVID-19. 

Executive chef and co-owner Mark García said he is humbled to see the response from their customers.

"Fortunate that we are this lucky. Everybody got hit. Honestly, when I was at home, I was like 'Wow, am I coming back from this?'" García said. "I think that was everyone's question."

"We hope in time people will be able to come back to the dining room and they feel safe," Kanfer said. "We are doing everything we can to make them feel safe. We hope that time is around the corner."

When the pandemic ends, the owners say they won't be cutting down on staff. The machines will just be used for takeout and delivery orders.

The restaurant is opening a third location in the Hamptons by the end of this week.

Kissaki | Bowery 212-577-1150 | Midtown 212-577-1141 |


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