San Antonio Express-News A Conversation with Kenzo Tran, owner of Piranha Killer Sushi by Jessica Elizarraras

  • January 31, 2012
  • San Antonio

Yes, there is such a thing as a friendly piranha.

“I think he's cute,” Kenzo Tran, owner of Piranha Killer Sushi says of his signature logo. “He kind of looks like Pac-Man.”

Tran, a restaurateur since 2001, opened Piranha Killer Sushi about a week ago. The Quarry Village location marks the sixth restaurant for Tran, who's a seasoned veteran when it comes to opening a restaurant.

“The sign has been up that long for a purpose: to generate attention. It raises curiosity,” Tran says. “We get people coming up asking if we're open all the time. That's the whole purpose.”

The rest of Piranha Killer sushi is just as intentional: the custom booths, the location of the sushi bar and what the sushi chefs wear are planned to the last detail.

“Our sushi chefs wear Hawaiian shirts to be less intimidating and more approachable because we want our customers to sit at the sushi bar,” Tran says.

Whether it's at the sushi bar or the outdoor bar during happy hour, guests will find something to like inside the aesthetically pleasing restaurant. Tran sat down to talk about what Piranha, which is based in Arlington, is adding to the San Antonio culinary scene and why making friends with your sushi chef is a good thing.

How long have you been working on this location; we've seen the sign up for a while now?

Everything in the restaurant is built custom. The booths, everything is custom. I wanted to make sure the restaurant is functional but at the same time enjoyable for customers to be in this environment. Clean and simple with a lot of details to the workmanship.

Will there be anything specific to San Antonio as far as rolls?

We just changed our menu and we're bringing a whole new menu down to San Antonio, about 15 new items. What generally happens is we have our main menu and we have our sushi bar chefs. We try to stay away from being a traditional sushi bar. Not in the food sense, but in the sense that chefs tend to be intimidating and sushi bars are in corners. Chefs will be facedown working and not really communicating with the customers.

And you've put them front and center ...

Yes. What usually happens is once they sit at the sushi bar, they don't want to sit anywhere else. In the beginning, we'll definitely see some hesitation and our customers will sit somewhere else. The chefs are trained to interact with the customers to get to know them and learn about their taste buds. Once they figure that out, they'll know what to make them. For example, my chefs would ask “Are you allergic to anything? What's your favorite fish? Do you like spicy (rolls)? Do you like sweet or sour (rolls)?” It's more freestyle and carefree. They wear bandanas on their head. We're really a free spirited sushi bar. Most stores with multiple chains make chefs stick to the menu. What happens with that is that chefs lose interest right away. If you have a passion for food, you also want to create your own stuff. We're chefs. We're creative. We take food and we make it into art.

Why San Antonio?

San Antonio seems like the perfect fit: the economy, the people. It's very vibrant. Sushi just happens to be underserved. We're in a vibrant city with vibrant culture.

Can you expand on that a little bit?

I don't think there's enough sushi bars here. I'm not smashing on anyone. But when I say underserved, I mean where I used to live in Florida, one neighborhood would have three or four sushi bars. Here, there's one down the street and on Broadway there's a couple.

Any specific rolls San Antonians might enjoy?

We have a few rolls in our menu that when you spell them out the ingredients are like “What?” but when you eat them, it's like “Whoa.” It just works out like that. The Marry Me Roll has shrimp tempura inside, ginger cream, scallions and fish eggs. On top of the roll, there are thin slices of avocado, and on top of that are thin slices of tuna, on top of that are thin slices of strawberries topped off with a kiwi glaze and a soy glaze. For some freakin' reason it just makes sense. Our sashimi is superior, top-grade sashimi. The Latino rolls (are) another roll I think will work really well down here. It has mixed crab with shrimp tempura on top, with cilantro, a twist of lime and slices of jalapeño on top.