Mood of Living Q&A:
Mood of Living: What is your hometown?
Kristofor Lofgren: Los Angeles, CA
MoL: Where did you go to school?
KL: UC Berkeley
MoL: What work did you do before running Bamboo Sushi? How have the skills you acquired in past work experiences equipped you for your work in the restaurant industry?
KL: I graduated from college and started Bamboo Sushi the following year. While I did work in college and high school, the most important thing that assisted me in the restaurant industry were the sports I had played. Basketball and Crew were a major part of my life in college and high school. The sports helped prepare me for leading a team of people and trying to make different personalities mesh well, which is necessary in a restaurant.
MoL: What was your first job?
KL: I was as a coach at summer camp when I was 14.
MoL: How did you get the idea to open a restaurant? What inspired you to get into the restaurant industry because you are not a chef yourself?
KL: I have always loved food. I have also always loved to go out and eat. The joy of being with people and engaging in such a social and fun activity has always made me feel alive and connected to humanity in a very unique way. Whether at a taco stand in Mexico, a street stall in Singapore or a 3 Michelin Star Restaurant in Paris, going out to eat is something that is so quintessentially human. My passion for food, the environment, and people is what led me to the restaurant industry. No one had created a sustainable sushi restaurant, so I thought, why not do it. The industry needed it.
MoL: Who is the chef at Bamboo Sushi? What distinguishes a great sushi chef, and why?
KL: Jin Soo Yang heads our culinary team. He oversees a diverse team that includes great minds from both the kitchen and sushi side. There is a great deal of discipline needed to be a great sushi chef because you need to focus on improving and honing your craft every day.
MoL: What drew you to sushi in particular?
KL: Sushi is my favorite type of cuisine. It’s both a food and an art form. It’s so unique in the world of cuisine. It’s as beautiful as it is delicious and it’s so complex, even though it appears so simple.
MoL: Have you always been interested in sustainability? When did it become important to you? What role does sustainability play in Bamboo Sushi?
KL: I grew up with parents who made giving back, sustainability and social justice a part of the conversation for me. I always knew I would work in a way that checked those boxes. It was important for me to do something with my life that had a higher purpose to it. At Bamboo Sushi and our parent company, SRG, everything we do has to be sustainable and socially good. It’s core to who we are and what we do.
MoL: Describe the fishing methods used by the fishermen who supply fish to Bamboo Sushi. Where are the fish caught? What relationship does Bamboo Sushi have with the fishermen? How does the state of our oceans today affect the sushi industry?
KL: There is a lot of work to be done around sustainable sourcing within the seafood industry in general. Specific to sushi is the diversity in the variety of fish being sourced. There is still a lot of supply out there being fished in unsustainable ways and, in sushi restaurants, a number of species that are overfished are served regularly.
MoL: What is most challenging about sourcing ingredients sustainably? Why don’t more sushi restaurants adopt the kinds of sustainable practices that Bamboo Sushi has? Are there any ingredients that are hard or impossible to acquire through sustainable practices? What factors must be taken into account to ensure all ingredients are obtained responsibly?
KL: It took a long time for us to develop our supply chain as we know it today. It was no easy task. I think for a lot of restauranteurs it’s daunting to think about how to source sustainable ingredients while still running the day-to-day of your business: payroll, customer service, etc. We had to do a lot of legwork up front to find suppliers that either already sourced sustainable seafood or taught others about what that meant and which fish we were interested in serving. When it comes to fish, there are certain species that we know are overfished, yet commonplace in sushi restaurants, such as bluefin tuna. That’s where we draw the line and say we won’t serve them. No compromises.
MoL: Bamboo Sushi has a certification from the Marine Stewardship Council. What does this mean?
KL: It was our first certification that afforded us the title of world’s first certified sustainable sushi restaurant. It was important for us to align with an international organization, backed by science and data, that was really doing the hard work to identify sustainable fisheries. It’s a nice stamp of approval next to certain species on our menu which also start a conversation with guests about sustainable fishing practices.
MoL: What is most rewarding about the work you do?
KL: The most rewarding aspect of my job is two sides of the same coin: 1. When a guest tells us we made their day special and they love our restaurants, that we took care of them and that they feel connected and alive when they eat with us. It’s very powerful and meaningful to hear such profound feedback about what you create. 2. When someone on our team says this is the best job they’ve ever had and that it’s changed their life in some positive way. Ultimately, we are trying to make the world more sustainable, but it’s all about changing and bettering people’s lives along the way while working towards the goal.
MoL: You call yourself an “ecopreneur.” What does this term mean to you?
KL: Using business for good. Ecopreneur is an entrepreneur who cares about the environment and puts it first.
MoL: What is the Sustainable Restaurant Group? What is its mission? What other restaurants does it encompass?
KL: Sustainable Restaurant Group really started by default when we opened Bamboo Sushi. There were always plans to expand and explore new concepts; all under the mission of changing the way people eat through conscious hospitality concepts. With the addition of our fast-casual concept, QuickFish, we’re able to expose more people to sustainable seafood and a wide range of price points.
MoL: Do you think that the location of the restaurant in Oregon grants it any advantages?
KL: Being in Oregon and Portland specifically has given us access to a great bounty of products to build our supply chain. The other advantage was people’s price sensitivity. Oregonians don’t want to overpay for things, which is great. They don’t care about conspicuous consumption like people in NYC or LA, so we had to keep our prices low and food quality very high. This has allowed us to make a very unique business model that we can bring to many cities around America. I’m thankful because we may not have been so sharpened by creating this concept in LA or any other large city. We’ve had to be more resourceful.
MoL: What other dishes besides sushi are served at Bamboo Sushi?
KL: A lot! We understand that not everybody is a big lover of sushi. We want to give our guests an opportunity to experience a variety of flavors and even bring along their non-sushi-eating friends. We actually have one of the best burgers I’ve ever eaten. There’s also a huge variety of vegetable dishes, some traditional like our Japanese Spinach Salad, and others like our Seaweeds that are foraged on the Mendocino Coast in Northern California.
MoL: Do you have a favorite kind of sushi, and a favorite kind of fish?
KL: Honestly it’s too hard to say. It depends on my mood, however I do love a perfectly pickled mackerel.
MoL: What is Bamboo Sushi’s philosophy?
KL: Bamboo Sushi has a real opportunity to drive the conversation on sustainability in the restaurant industry and we’re excited to see how far we can take it.
MoL: Where do you see the future of Bamboo Sushi?
KL: We’re looking to expose more people to sustainable seafood. On a large scale, we can inspire real change and help show other restauranteurs how they can adopt some of our sustainability practices. California is that next market for us and then we’ll grow from there.
MoL: What kind of philanthropy are you involved in?
KL: Besides the work we do with the restaurants, which is quite expansive in its focus, my wife and I give back to underserved youth organizations. She also donates her time to help families who don’t have financial literacy and helps to guide them towards financial independence.
MoL: How do you incorporate conscious living into your life?
KL: Conscious living pervades every aspect of my life and all that I do. From the products I purchase to the trips I take and restaurants I eat in, I focus on companies, products, and people that give back in some way.
MoL: What can ordinary people do to be more environmentally-conscious in their own lives?
KL: Buy sustainable food. Eat mostly plant based foods (80%) and sustainable proteins (20%). People eat too much meat. Support renewable energy (buy it for your apartment or house). If you can’t do that, maybe get an electric car. Food and energy are the best ways to cut down on environmental impact.
MoL: Tell us about your living space. Do you entertain guests? Do you cook? If so, would you be willing to share a favorite recipe with us?
KL: I love to cook and entertain. There are too many things to list, but a favorite recipe in the summer is a perfect caprese salad. There’s almost nothing better.
MoL: How have technological changes that have occurred over the course of your career affected the work you do, negatively or positively?
KL: I think technology has made the fishing industry even better. It’s made it more transparent and accountable. Hopefully this will continue. Technology has enabled us to know more accurately where our products are and where they are in transit, which is critical to our focus on sustainability.
MoL: What are your hobbies?
KL: I’m very active, so anything that gets my adrenaline up is something I usually enjoy: skiing, CrossFit, diving, racing cars, running, bungee jumping, etc.
MoL: What music inspires you?
KL: My musical tastes are quite varied and change depending on my mood. The only type of music I don’t listen to regularly is country music.
MoL: Where do you go for peace of mind?
KL: I love the ocean or the mountains, and I like to go with family or friends. Everything is better when you are surrounded by people you love and who love you.
MoL: Do you have any words of wisdom?
KL: Do something you love. Surround yourself with people who inspire you. Do something meaningful that is bigger than yourself. You’ll be more fulfilled.
Website: Bamboo Sushi
Photography courtesy of Bamboo Sushi.
Kristofor Lofgren, Founder of Bamboo Sushi