Over 16 years Blue Sushi Sake Grill has gradually grown to 13 locations across the U.S. The brand is owned by Flagship Restaurant Group, which was founded by a group of investors including CEO Nick Hogan. Blue, the group’s first concept, began in Omaha, Nebraska. Hogan had spent time enjoying the sushi scene in Tucson, Arizona and San Diego, and then moved to Omaha and noticed a hole in the market. So, he and his partners—all in their late 20s and having never opened a restaurant before—opened the first Blue in 2002.
“We didn’t know what we didn’t know,” Hogan says in hindsight. But, by learning and evolving the brand on the go, they have managed to develop a successful sushi brand, among others.
In the beginning, Hogan says, Blue was more of a specialty restaurant, but, as the brand has grown, Blue has changed to be more approachable. “Now, I think we operate in that space between maybe the mom-and-pop sushi restaurant and fine dining,” he says. “You get very close to the fine dining experience but with a more affordable ticket.”
One of the things that Hogan believes has been a significant component of Blue’s growth and brand revolution has been evolving the menu and decor of the locations continuously. “When we started 16 years ago, the vast majority of people were California-roll-eating people. As time has gone on, their palates have matured and they look for stuff that’s a little more out there. People are eating uni, or things that would have scared them away years ago. They’re eating more sashimi, climbing that sushi sophistication ladder,” Hogan says. “I think we’ve done a great job over the years of evolving our menu to keep pace with that.”