Kinjo aims to be the 'McDonald's of sushi restaurants'

Peter Kinjo is proving that his style of fast, consistent and entertaining sushi is a hit with Calgarians. He has just opened his fourth location and has plans for a fifth.

Peter Kinjo hopes to convert Calgarians to sushi one kid at a time

Peter Kinjo working the crowds at his newest Kinjo Sushi and Grill location in northeast Calgary. (Judy Aldous)

Peter Kinjo walks over to a couple about to dig into a California sushi roll, grabs the unsuspecting woman's hand, looks at her husband and says:

"This is only for pretty girl, not for pretty hairy white boy. Hold her hand and say 'My pretty girl, you so beautiful.'"

The woman giggles a bit but no one seems perturbed by the man in the kimono with the Japanese knife in his belt, entertaining guests on this Friday night.

This is what Peter Kinjo offers at his chain of Japanese restaurants in Calgary called Kinjo Sushi and Grill, food served fast and entertainment.

McDonald's of sushi

Peter Kinjo's strategy is to go after the kids first, knowing that the wallet-toting parents will be happy if their kids are.

Sample of sushi at Kinjo Sushi and Grill. Peter Kinjo says he is trying to get more of his customers to try raw fish. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

"I want these kids to grow up and sushi nothing fancy. Sushi gonna be their hamburger, their pizza, their pasta."

Visit any Kinjo around 5 p.m. on a weekend and you'll see that half the tables have kids under 10 years old.

His staff are trained not to be fussy about the noise or the mess of rice that kids invariably leave squished into the floor.

"I just do what McDonald's did. Make the kids happy."

And like a fast food restaurant, the service is speedy as you are guaranteed something to eat within 15 minutes of being seated.

Forget the iconic stories of sushi chefs training for two years just to make the perfect rice ball.

Kinjo invested in a rice ball maker that can churn out 36 of the compact balls in a minute.

"I don't have any Red Seal chefs working for me," he boasts smiling.

Pocky Room

Just off the restaurant kitchen is a room that Peter Kinjo loves to show his guests.

Peter Kinjo, and his ever-present knife, in his Pocky Room at his northeast location. (Judy Aldous)

"This is my Pocky Room," he laughs, pointing to the floor to ceiling shelves stacked with boxes of the Japanese-style cookies.

Each woman and child who eats here gets a free box to take home.

"I give away $500,000 of Pocky, maybe $600,000 this year with new location, every year. The kids like it." 

Long way from home

It's taken Peter Kinjo a long time to be able to say he has the sushi incarnation of McDonalds.

Peter Kinjo and his singing sushi-making staff at Kinjo Sushi and Grill in northeast Calgary. (Judy Aldous)

He came to Alberta from Japan 45 years ago, poor and hungry to work.

He worked slaughterhouses and restaurants in the Lethbridge area for a decade, then in 1981 he helped start the Edo Japan fast food chain, but he says the business partnership soured and he was pushed out.

Kinjo then tried his hand at a number of restaurants in Calgary and in the United States but none succeeded until 2005 when he opened his first Kinjo on Macleod Trail.

Sushi Boom

The downturn has not hurt Peter Kinjo; he recently opened his fourth location in northeast Calgary and has plans to open a fifth in Mahogany in 2017.

Kinjo's rice sheet machine can churn out 1,200 rice sheets in an hour, allowing him to offer quality and quick service. (Judy Aldous/CBC)

He says sales should exceed $15 million this year.

He calls these four restaurants his "entry level" establishments and his goal is to grow big enough that he can have a centralized kitchen and then open a high end Japanese restaurant.

"I want them (customers) to learn what sushi is. And eventually I'm going to make next level and then next level and one day I'm going to open authentic real Japanese restaurant." 


About the Author

Judy Aldous

CBC Radio

Judy Aldous is an award-winning reporter and producer who has worked across the country for CBC Radio. She's been working with CBC Calgary since 2002 and is currently the host of alberta@noon.


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