By Melissa Quinn
For restaurateurs Mike Anderson and Bill Blackburn, a sushi restaurant in the Del Ray neighborhood was a long time coming.
But it wasn’t until they saw another niche — for an adults-only venue — that the duo made national news. The pair saw a void among the family-friendly eateries along Mount Vernon Avenue and — as any good businessperson does, Anderson said — decided to fill it.
“People have been bugging us for the last year to get the sushi bar finished,” he said. “But now the pressure is on us to perform and put out a great product.”
The restaurant — designed by locally renowned designer Walter Gagliano, who has been the creative voice behind a bevy of eateries in the metropolitan area — will include a sushi and sake bar, complete with 24 different flavors of rice wine.
The establishment, which will hold about 50 people, features a lounge design, with bench seating along the walls and easy-to-move cube-like chairs. Anderson and Blackburn tentatively are planning to open up shop next month.
“It’s more of a casual, informal lounge than it is a traditional, restaurant setting,” Blackburn said.
The duo, known colloquially as “Buffalo Bill” and “Mango Mike,” plan for the sushi bar to open at 5 p.m. and close between 10 and 11 p.m. weeknights. On weekends, though, the restaurant will remain open until 12:30 a.m.
And, in what has become the most controversial aspect of their new endeavor, the lounge is kid-free.
“We were looking at the wants and needs of Del Ray,” Blackburn said. “We’re down here a lot and talking a lot and listening to people, and this … kid-free zone kept coming up. And a lot of customers threw the idea out there. ”
The sushi bar would be the only restaurant exclusive to adults in the famously family-friendly neighborhood, and the duo’s decision to host only 18-and-older customers has garnered local and national attention.
Anderson and Blackburn’s project was featured on ABC’s “The Chew” and in The Washington Post, in addition to receiving coverage from local news outlets like Patch. But they remain confident about their decision to open a restaurant exclusively for adults.
“It wasn’t our plan from the beginning back in 2008, but it became our plan in the last six to eight months,” Blackburn said. “There’s over 100,000 square feet of restaurant space in Del Ray, and this project is less than 2,000 square feet. We’re talking about making less than 2 percent of the restaurant space in Del Ray an adults-only area. It’s like adult swim at the pool.”
His business partner agreed.
“When it comes to businesses, people vote with their feet,” Anderson said. “If they don’t like what you’re doing, they’ll go some place else, and if they like what you’re doing, you’ll be busy and popular. And we feel like we’ve made the right choice.”
While a few Del Ray residents have expressed distaste at the possibility of a kids-free restaurant, others have been receptive and excited about the idea, including state Delegate Rob Krupicka, according to Anderson.
“You’re appealing to a different market segment of the folks down here in Del Ray,” he said. “Probably 80 [percent] to 90 percent of the people felt like it [was] a great idea. And the feedback we’ve gotten from folks … kind of validates that original premise.”
Plans for the restaurant, sandwiched between the pair’s other Del Ray eateries — Holy Cow and Pork Barrel BBQ — on the 2300 block of Mount Vernon Ave., continue to move forward. Anderson and Blackburn recently hired sushi chef Pete Kannasute, who is leaving his post at Sushi Rock, to head the bar.
Kannasute officially starts May 5, and the duo hope “The Sushi Bar” — as you can find it in the phone book, since the actual name is a Japanese symbol roughly translated as “to dream” — will open for business not long after.
The menu will offer specialty rolls, though Anderson and Blackburn are keeping quiet about the details. But at least one selection will combine barbecue and sushi, paying homage to the pair’s previous culinary success.
“We’d be silly not to have some sort of barbecue-pork sushi roll,” Blackburn said.