Rebrand Comes Up Trumps

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A new name and understanding of its core clientele jumps customer counts.

Axiom Sushi
Owner: Diep Tran
Location: Dallas, Texas
Annual Sales: $550,000 projected for 2011
Segment: Independent

Understanding its core clientele and its branding message has been essential to the success of Axiom Sushi in Dallas.

This 220-seat restaurant opened last September as Fin Sushi Lounge in the Oak Lawn/Turtle Creek neighborhood. Its owners also operate four Sushi Axiom restaurants in and around Dallas.

One of them lies around three miles away, so the owners believed the two were too close to operate under the same name, and that a shared name would also put them in competition with each other.

They were wrong. “We found that people were confused and didn’t know we were the same as Sushi Axiom,” says general manager Christine Buczek. “So in May we rebranded—we changed our name, but everything else stayed the same.”

“The owners couldn’t leverage their branding at this restaurant but when they changed their branding, they could and people had brand recognition,” explains Scott Barretto, co-founder, StraightOut Media & Marketing, Dallas, the restaurant’s public relations agency.

And that branding continues through to the menus, which are about 75 percent the same from one location to another. Some sushi rolls are unique to each location—one of Axiom Sushi's is named after the building the restaurant is located in, for example.

Axiom Sushi’s owners have also been very aware of their clientele, which is predominantly gay men in their 20s and 30s, who have a high disposable income, and are fairly heavy drinkers.

Because of this, the restaurant has a much more lounge-nightclub feel than the four other Sushi Axiom restaurants, which are more traditional.

It also features a lot of music. There’s a DJ booth that is manned on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and it’s also used when there are special events.

Regular events include Martini Mondays, which feature 99¢ sake-based martinis with an entrée purchase. There’s also a sake flight (for $3—usually $8 to $10) that includes up to 10 flavors of sake. The promotion was built around the restaurant’s cold tap sake system, which is the first of its kind in Texas. 

On the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month, Axiom presents Spin 4 A Cause—a fundraiser for a local non-profit during which a community activist or leader is the celebrity DJ and spins with one of the restaurant’s resident DJs.

Other events in the works are a gospel brunch on Sundays and a regular karaoke night. Guests can also rent out the space. “We want our stage to do as many different things as it can,” Buczek says.

And the owners are also pushing the earlier and later-night business. Axiom is busiest at 8 p.m. “We’re the before-going-out place,” Buczek says. “It’s mostly an eating place right now but we’d like to build it up to be a place where people hang out.” And that’s doable, she adds, since close to 40 percent of sales come from alcohol—double that of the other Axioms.

To encourage earlier business, Axiom Sushi holds a happy hour from 4:30 to 7 p.m., which includes drink specials and small plates for $3 and $4.

On Thursdays the restaurant serves free sushi during the happy hour, which Buczek says “has been cash flow positive as patrons tend to drink twice as much when they aren’t paying for food.” It’s attracting new business but “has also become almost a customer appreciation day for regular customers as well,” she adds.

And as another draw, Axiom Sushi plans to hire more gay staff. “Most of the gay bartenders in the area have a following, and this is something that Axiom has not been able to take advantage of as bar staff was relocated from other restaurants (as were some of the wait staff).”

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