A trip to California turned into a very successful business venture for 2002 Ubly graduate Alayna (Gentner) Wesener, owner of Sushi Remix, located in Saginaw, and now, Bay City.
“About four years ago, I was running a half marathon out in California,” Wesener said. “I really wanted sushi for dinner and when I searched for sushi in the area, a poke-bowl restaurant showed up. I thought that was an interesting concept and it looked really delicious.”
Wesener explained that a poke-bowl is basically a deconstructed bowl of sushi.
“I had finished making my own bowl and I sat down and ate my first bite and I instantly said out loud, ‘oh my gosh, I’m opening a poke-bowl restaurant, so I can have this in Michigan,’ Wesener said. “I said that, and then about a minute later said, ‘wait a minute, I’m broke and I’m a graphic designer I have no entrepreneurial experience.’ So, I kind of just kept it as a pipe dream. That was four years ago, and it just kept coming back to my mind.”
Wesener continued to think about opening her own poke-bowl restaurant over the years while working as a graphic designer.
“The years went by, and I would be sitting in board meetings at work making notes, just trying to stay awake and I would think about, if I was going to open a restaurant, what would I do?” Wesener said. “I’d think about all of the things I need to buy, and I’d think about the marketing campaign that I could do, and I’d think about names and logos.”
Finally, Wesener got the push that she needed to make the move.
“I ended up getting recruited to work for a company, CMURC (Central Michigan University Research Corporation),” Wesener said. “They are a business incubator and accelerator and the job of the business is to help entrepreneurs’ dreams become realities. I was recruited to work there to help these entrepreneurs with their marketing, not to start my own business. I just kept watching these entrepreneurs and was so inspired by them every day, as they were following their dreams. I started to realize that if they could do this, why couldn’t I do this.”
Before she made the move though, she received some advice that turned out to be very valuable.
“I got some advice from a mentor of mine, and he had said to me, ‘Alayna, I love this idea, but I’m only going to support this if you open up a creative agency at the same time. You’ve got a nephew you just adopted, and you’ve got mouths to feed,” Wesener explained. “It was honestly the best advice I ever took because I was able to completely finance our Saginaw location, which opened up in June.”
Her first Sushi Remix opened this past June, in the SVRC Marketplace, located in downtown Saginaw.
There are almost 40 vendors located at the SVRC Marketplace, and they were one of about 15 restaurants.
While the restaurant was a wild success, there was one problem with the location.
“It just exploded,” Wesener said. “But, we have to follow the hours of the market, which is only open four days a week and it closes before dinner really starts. We’d a have a fantastic lunch, then it would slow down between 3 and 4, and then just as it started to pick back up, the market would close.”
That got Wesener and her husband, Aaron, thinking about the future of Sushi Remix, and shortly after they opened their restaurant in Saginaw, an opportunity arose.
“We kept thinking, imagine if we had a restaurant that had dinner hours and we could be open six days a week,” Wesener said. “We just had the most amazing opportunity fall into our laps. The building that we just opened, in Uptown Bay City, Shaheen Development were so very generous and said that if we signed a five-year lease that they would do the build-out for us. All of the electrical, all of the plumbing, all of the permits, building the walls, the countertops, everything. They literally built the entire thing for us.”
The result was a new Sushi Remix, located at 152 Uptown Drive in Bay City, featuring seating for at least 50 people, a 25-foot bar, and hours that will allow Wesener to capitalize on the dinner rush.
The store’s soft opening was last week, and the official ribbon cutting and grand opening with the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce and the Saginaw County Chamber of Commerce was Thursday.
Wesener will be looking to build on the incredible success that she has already found in a short period of time with Sushi Remix.
“We literally are making four times what our sales projections were for Saginaw,” Wesener said. “We were able to open our Bay City location without having to take on any additional debt, which is unheard of. It’s been going so well that my husband was able to actually quit his job and run both locations. Because of this, we were able to have him quit his job, it pays for him to work there, pays for our health insurance and this is a little booth that is open four days a week in downtown Saginaw. We’re just so excited.”
During their soft opening, they served hundreds of customers according to Wesener, and occasionally, she gets visits from her old teachers at Ubly.
“I have the best teachers in the entire world,” Wesener said. “They keep coming to visit me all the way in Saginaw. Just the support is amazing. They come in packs and they’ll make the two-hour drive to go to downtown Saginaw to eat my food. You just don’t hear that.”