January 15, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Family is at the heart of everything that Randy Gao does.

It was the reason he moved to the Midwest in the early ‘90s, after first emigrating from China to New York City. It compelled him to enter the restaurant business, following in the footsteps of his older sister. And it has been the driving force behind his latest venture, all-you-can-eat Tokyo Sushi.

For the Gaos, going into the restaurant business seemed an obvious choice—
a way for them to make a living, together.

Sitting at the bar of his modern but cozy restaurant in the heart of the Old Market at 1215 Howard St., Gao told me the story about how he first came to the United States in 1993 after leaving his home in China’s Fujian province. He attended high school in New York City and, after graduation, moved to Fort Madison, Iowa, where his older sister had recently opened a restaurant.

Today, over 20 years later, the Gao family remains in the Midwest and now operates three restaurants in the Omaha/Council Bluffs area. Randy, his brother, and two sister-in-laws operate Tokyo Sushi. Other members of the family own and operate two Chinese restaurants in Council Bluffs—Taste of China and China Wok.

Opened in 2013, Tokyo Sushi is Randy’s second all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant. The first, Wasabi, was located in West Omaha and closed in early 2013. He says the move downtown has been good for business and their all-you-can-eat business model, unique for a sushi restaurant, lures customers from outside Omaha.

“I love the downtown area,” Gao said. “We have a lot of regulars here and we even have some customers that come all the way from Lincoln.”

Tokyo Sushi’s all-you-can-eat menu is perfect for the indecisive among us. For $19.99 Sunday through Thursday ($22.99 on weekends) you can choose from an expansive menu—including soups and salads, a host of appetizers, traditional nigiri (a piece of raw fish placed atop a pillow of rice), maki (traditional sushi rolls), and many specialty rolls. The weekend menu also includes your choice of five varieties of sashimi (thinly sliced raw fish). During lunch you can enjoy a slightly abbreviated menu for $12.99 per adult.

Although Tokyo Sushi is all-you-can-eat, this isn’t your typical buffet. Every item on the menu is made fresh to order by four sushi chefs. Gao told me how important it is to him to use the freshest fish possible. For that reason, they receive several shipments of fresh fish each week.

True to form, Gao had families in mind when designing the interior of Tokyo Sushi. He wasn’t going for a super trendy atmosphere. Rather, he wanted to create a comfortable space for families to come together and enjoy a meal. The dining area accommodates around 100 diners and is filled with mainly four-top tables. “We didn’t want it to feel like a bar,” he said. “We really wanted the design to be family friendly.”

Although it doesn’t have a bar atmosphere, Tokyo Sushi does offer a happy hour special every weekday from 3-5 p.m. and a late-night happy hour from 9 p.m. to close (9:30 p.m. to close on weekends). Happy hour is still all-you-can-eat, but the price tag is only $12.99 and, like the lunch menu, is smaller than the dinner menu.

When visiting Tokyo Sushi for the first time, it can be a bit overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to start when you have the entire menu to choose from. Randy said some customer favorites include the Super Dynamite roll; tempura fried with eel, white tuna, crab, cucumber and cream cheese, with eel sauce and spicy mayo on top. Another favorite is the Hoppin Jalapeno Roll, which is crab, cucumber, and crunchy bits of fried tempura batter inside and spicy tuna and jalapeno chips on the outside. The roll is then drizzled with eel sauce and spicy mayo.

“I think a lot of our customers like the idea of all you can eat sushi,” Gao said. “It’s a good way to try a lot of things—without breaking the wallet.”

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