Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that sushi burritos broke the internet last year. Sushirrito opened their first store on the east coast in New York City's Flatiron District in July, and are planning on opening a second location in New York soon. 

We caught up with Sushirrito's co-founder and chief executive roller Peter Yen about starting Sushirrito and what it's like to bring a viral food sensation to NYC.

Spoon: Where did the idea for Sushirrito come from?

Peter Yen: Back in 2004, I was cooking with my brother frequently. One day we decided to make sushi and make it the size of a burrito and it turned out really good. I thought it was a great idea, but never though I would start a business, let alone a restaurant with it.

There were lots of pre-made and fine dining sushi restaurants. Pre-made sushi is typically not fresh and of low quality whereas fine dining sit-down sushi restaurants are slower and more expensive. It just dawned on me, "How come there isn't a fast casual sushi option?" There were several reasons, but to me the sushi burrito would be very suitable for a fast-casual sushi concept.

Spoon: How did you create the menu?

PY: In my mind, to do fast casual well you have to do something simple from a customer perspective. A simple menu helps from a customer and operational standpoint, so I knew I wanted to keep it as simple as possible, but cover all the major options. 

So in my mind, those three fish [salmon, tuna, yellowtail] encompass the major proteins for sushi. That was the premise: these are the proteins I want to cover in addition to beef, pork, and chicken. Ty [co-founder] was very puzzled at first. You want to put chicken in a sushi roll? 

We created and tested over 40 sauces and tons of sushi burrito creations and just kept testing things out over eight months.

Spoon: Why did you guys decide to open up shop in New York City?

PY: We like the dense metropolitan urban model and New York has very similar demographics to San Francisco, along with density and taste profile. We always thought it would be a good market to get into and be a part of.

A lot of people have asked why not L.A. before New York. It made a lot of sense operationally and logistically, but New York is denser and the timing was good and it felt right. From a branding stand point, we figured if we could do well in New York, it would speak a lot for us. 

Ty actually moved out there [NYC] with his family to help establish our culinary presence there.

Spoon: Have there been any menu adoptions specific to New York City or San Francisco, or any in the future?

PY: We currently have baked salmon and this is our third iteration of the menu. For the first two menus we had raw salmon, but due to several reasons we switched to baked and I liked it a lot. But after we opened in New York, we got tons of feedback from people really demanding raw salmon.

We've always had plans to do raw salmon again, but we didn't prioritize it until we came to New York. We launched a raw salmon option in New York last week, as well as a soup because it can get colder in New York. So we are, in that sense, catering to New York.

Spoon: Is customization ever coming to Sushirrito?

PY: Not at all. We have a different stance—customization is the trend in fast casual, but customization brings up a lot of issues operationally. The main thing is we're very culinary-driven and we really wanted to curate a specific menu and taste profiles. Like at a fine-dining restaurant, you can't just swap things out freely. 

I actually think one upcoming trend will be culinary-driven menus in fast casual. I think people are going to start understanding customization, that there's a place for it but you're missing out on something, which is making really good and unique food.

Spoon: What's next for Sushirrito?

PY: We just opened another store in San Jose two to three weeks ago and we're about to open a second New York store in January. 

We do want to open more stores in New York and the Bay Area and probably another market later, but we're tackling a lot right now. We're still improving systems and operations behind the scenes, so hopefully we can roll out new products in the next six months. 

We've been doing lots of R&D over the last couple of years, including creating some products the world has never seen before. Some of the products are not sushi burritos at all. But timing and readiness are important.