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The backstory: RA Sushi

What started as a childhood friendship during grade school at a Scottsdale elementary school grew into an enduring business partnership. At the age of 28, Rich Howland and Scott Kilpatrick, along with two of their college friends, founded the now national sushi restaurant chain, RA Sushi Bar Restaurant.

Fresh out of college from The University of Arizona, Rich and Scott began their professional careers separate from one another, but it wasn’t long until the two concocted an idea to start a business together in their hometown of Scottsdale. Another college friend, Todd Belfer, was brought in as a business partner. It started when they purchased an Old Town Scottsdale restaurant called Trappers. With great enthusiasm, they decided to open an upscale Mediterranean restaurant in its place featuring complex entrees and an upscale design. The restaurant fell flat in less than eight months.

Back to the drawing board, longtime sushi fans, Rich and Scott realized there was something missing in the sushi restaurant scene in the Valley. Many traditional sushi restaurants were drawing crowds, but they didn’t have an alluring ambiance to combine with quality sushi.  The pair realized there was a demand for sushi restaurants, but they thought they could improve the concept by combining quality Japanese fusion cuisine, with a hip, stylish decor that would appeal to a younger crowd.

The concept was born, but the owners knew little about sushi operations. In June of 1997, they sought out a longtime acquaintance from their days in college, Tai Obata – a sushi expert and someone they trusted. Tai accepted a proposal to become a partner. To obtain funds to transform the failed Mediterranean restaurant into a trendy, contemporary sushi bar and restaurant, they brought in a number of colleagues who served as part owners. By adding investors, the original owners were able to greatly expand their circle of friends and customers. They credit much of their start-up success to this business decision.

The original team of owners quickly became the construction crew, interior designers and marketing professionals. Tai drew on his expertise as a native of Japan and longtime sushi chef to design the sushi bar and create the menu. Rich, Scott, Tai and the crew rolled up their sleeves and began building the restaurant’s interior all the while touting the new restaurant concept to locals.

In less than six months, the four business partners and a host of local investors opened the first RA Sushi in Old Town Scottsdale in October 1997. The concept took off and the place soon became the hotspot. By mid-1999, RA Sushi opened its second location in Tempe. The concept thrived and although there were some growing pains along the way, Rich and Scott remained at the helm. With a new bank loan and an extremely tight budget, RA opened two more locations in the Phoenix area in 2001 and 2002. In 2002, they were surprised to learn that Benihana Inc., operator of the nation’s largest chain of Japanese theme and sushi restaurants, was interested in purchasing the company.

Benihana purchased RA Sushi in late 2002 and immediately began expansion of the concept. What four young friends started has grown into a successful national restaurant concept with 25 locations throughout the United States. Initially, Scott, Rich and Tai stayed on board to oversee the exciting new adventure. To this day, RA’s corporate office remains in Scottsdale, with Scott as the Vice President and Tai as the Executive Chef. Rich has since moved on to other restaurant ventures.

 

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RA Sushi Celebrates 15-Year Anniversary

Valley-based RA Sushi Bar Restaurant opened their first restaurant in 1997 in Old Town Scottsdale, founded on the premise of great sushi and good times. Fifteen years later, the company has grown to 25 locations nationwide, including five in Greater Metro Phoenix. To celebrate 15 years of successfully combining fresh sushi, Japanese fusion cuisine, and a “RA”ckin’ vibe, RA Sushi is hosting a customer appreciation day and throwing the mother of all parties on Thursday, November 15!

RA’s anniversary celebration will be all about good food, good times and good deeds! As a way of saying “thank you” to the loyal guests who have supported RA over the years, all day long on November 15, receive a 15 percent discount off your tab at any RA Sushi location. RA also feels it’s important to continually give back to the communities in which it does business. During the customer appreciation day on November 15, RA will donate 15 percent of all profits to St. Mary’s Food Bank Alliance, whose mission is to provide food assistance to those who need it the most in the community.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and RA has made sure this anniversary celebration will be the bomb! On November 15 from 7 p.m. to close, take a trip down memory lane to the 90s and enjoy a variety of slammin’ food and drink deals. A selection of $5 drink specials include: The Usual Suspects (Jack and Cola), Teen Spirit, Baywatch Punch, Pineapple or Grapefruit Gin and Juice, Vanilla Ice Martini, Boombastic Bombers (Kirin & Kirin Light), or go for a $3 Spud’s Suds (Bud or Bud Light). Treat yourself to 90s-inspired sushi, such as the Fresh Prince Roll ($7), Kramer Roll ($8), Show Me the Money Roll ($9), and the “RA”dical Roll ($10).

Visit RA Sushi on November 15 at any one of five Valley locations:

* Ahwatukee: 4921 E. Ray Rd., Phoenix, Ariz., 85044. For more information, call 480-940-1111.

* North Scottsdale at Kierland Commons: 7012 E. Greenway Pkwy., Scottsdale, Ariz., 85254. For more information, call 480-951-5888.

* Downtown Tempe: 411 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, Ariz., 85281. For more information, call 480-303-9800.

* Mesa at Dana Park: 1652 S. Val Vista Dr., Mesa, Ariz., 85204. For more information, call 480-632-9500.

* Old Town Scottsdale: 3815 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, Ariz., 85251. For more information, call 480-990-9256.