36 Years and Counting, Bellevue’s First Sushi Restaurant Prospers
I Love Sushi on Lake Bellevue has successfully made it through three decades of business – something most restaurants have yet to achieve. Their story began in 1986 when they broke ground on their first sushi restaurant in Downtown Bellevue. Today, they continue to be rooted in Japanese culture and techniques resulting in premium, traditional sushi. Shuhei Shimazu, general manager and head chef at I Love Sushi, said the original owner wanted to bring Japanese cuisine to Eastside residents.
“While our menu has Americanized Japanese food to feed a wide range of audiences, most of our dishes are very traditional,” Shimazu said. “Our chefs go through rigorous training that allows them to create high-quality sushi you can’t find anywhere else. ”
Shimazu describes I Love Sushi as a family-style restaurant with a reasonably priced menu and cozy atmosphere, something he wasn’t quite used to. Before Shimazu’s big move to Bellevue, he worked at Kenzo Napa, a high-end sushi restaurant in Napa Valley – the same place where he earned a Michelin star. He planned to head back to Japan after receiving that honor, but I Love Sushi’s current CEO, Hiro Kawasaki, offered him a position he couldn’t pass up.
“When I first met Kawasaki, he said, ‘I want to be a 100-year-old company’,” Shimazu said. “I was inspired to be a part of his vision, and in 2018, I took a chance and moved to Bellevue.”
Working at a sushi restaurant in the Pacific Northwest has its advantages, Shimazu said. With the Port of Seattle located nearby, I Love Sushi can import high-quality fish straight from Japan. They serve over 10 different kinds of fish, making them unique to Downtown.
“Having a large array of fish to serve helps us further share what Japanese cuisine looks like,” Shimazu said.
The future seemed bright with a new head chef taking charge of the establishment, but even the strongest restaurants go through hard times. Like most businesses, the pandemic brought a new set of challenges to I Love Sushi. Shimazu said they saw as little as one person a day during that time.
“It was a hard beginning, but as our take out options became more popular, we were able to build a reputation for ourselves,” Shimazu said. “Guests who came in once became fans and eventually returned once we were open again. It was a great chance to build relationships.”
After much success, Shimazu said his current focus is to build the restaurant up to the best it can be and pass the baton to someone who has the same passion for Japanese cuisine.
“I will keep training, learning, and studying until I can’t do it anymore,” he said. “Then, I will pass on I Love Sushi’s legacy to the next generation.”
Craving more authentic Japanese cuisine? Check out their sister restaurant, ILS Poke, now open in Redmond!
This blog is part of the Heart of Bellevue: our campaign to showcase local businesses while connecting you with stories of activity, creativity and recovery. Find out about our campaign and explore more of what’s happening around Downtown.
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I Love Sushi 23 Lake Bellevue Dr Bellevue, WA 98005