Go West, young brand. That’s the new strategy of Rock N’ Roll Sushi, an emerging casual-dining sushi brand based out of Alabama. Yes, a sushi brand based out of Alabama that’s spreading west — a sentence most people never thought they’d read.
The brand just signed a 25-unit deal in Colorado as well as deals in Las Vegas and Phoenix for expansion.
“We kind of call this our ‘Go West, young brand,’” CEO Chris Kramolis said. “This concept was built by the original founders… through friends and family and just word of mouth and such awesome organic growth in the Southeast.”
Kramolis is a franchisee himself. The chain’s newest store in Conway, Ark., is his — his fifth and the chain’s 55th.
The new Colorado deal is in partnership with Kyle Gerstner, CEO and owner of KMG, LLC, and a franchisee of eight Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers restaurants.
“I’m thrilled to add Rock N’ Roll Sushi to my franchise portfolio,” Gerstner said in a statement. “The brand has a loud look and feel and a super-energetic environment, coupled with amazing sushi that my family and I love. Plus, it’s a young brand that offers an opportunity to be part of an exciting, fast-growing concept. We look forward to working with their team to bring Rock N’ Roll Sushi’s signature menu items to fans across the Centennial State.”
The first unit in this development deal is expected to open in Colorado Springs in 2023 and will feature a dedicated to-go service area and window for guests to grab food on the go. But it won’t be without Rock N’ Roll Sushi’s famous personality.
In locations where they’re allowed, Rock N’ Roll Sushi has speakers outside, blasting rock music into the parking lot so customers know what to expect when they enter the restaurant. If it’s allowed in Colorado Springs, that will be the case with the to-go window as well.
The inside is even more rock and roll.
“We got a killer vibe. I mean, it's pretty badass in there. When you come in, we've got the tunes cranked up and we've got a fun environment,” said Kramolis.
It’s not just a gimmick either; it’s part of the restaurant’s DNA.
“When I bring new franchisees on, I'm like, ‘This is no joke — rock and roll is just not in our name.’ We are rock and roll; I mean you need to understand that we are the genuine article. We love music. We love all this stuff,’” said Kramolis.
Kramolis is a proud product of the 80’s, so the Metallica played at Rock N’ Roll Sushi is perfect for him. It’s what drew him to the brand in the first place, along with the fact that an Alabama sushi concept was blowing up.
“It was a little bit of a head-scratcher to me at first, how are these guys blowing up sushi in Alabama? Right? Like that sentence didn’t even make sense that I just heard,” said Kramolis.
The thing that helped Rock N’ Roll Sushi expand so rapidly in 12 years is that it made sushi approachable to middle America. Rather than having traditional sushi places or high-end restaurants that felt intimidating to many people or just didn’t exist in many places, Rock N’ Roll Sushi found a way to sell sushi that everyone feels comfortable ordering and eating.
“They made sushi approachable to the 90% of Americans who nobody was inviting to come eat sushi,” said Kramolis.
Part of the approachability comes in the names of the sushi rolls: VIP roll. The Tour Bus. Punk Rock roll. All names rather than salmon maki, a more traditional piece of sushi.
The chain also serves hibachi, but it’s done behind the scenes, or “backstage,” as Kramolis says. There’s no show here, just good food and rock n roll.
“I love the fact that [founders Lance and Gerry Hallmark] were… it's kind of audacious, wasn't it?” said Kramolis. “Maybe it's kind of like what Lynyrd Skynyrd did with rock and roll.”