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Networking: Kristofor Lofgren

Owner Bamboo Sushi Portland, Ore.

By James Wright
November 05, 2011

Under the “ecopreneurial” watch of California native Kristofor Lofgren, Bamboo Sushi in Portland, Ore., has become one of the state’s most highly regarded restaurants in just five years. Lofgren was part of the original Masu East (in the same location) ownership before buying out his partners after their plans diverged. Renamed Bamboo Sushi in 2008 after Lofgren took over, it is the first certified-sustainable sushi restaurant in the country, with much of its seafood coming from Marine Stewardship Council (MSC)-certified fisheries. To Lofgren, 29, sustainability claims require proof, and he feels MSC certification “is a good place to hang our hat.”

The University of California-Berkeley graduate’s passion for the environment came from his parents: His father was an environmentalist and his mother was health-conscious. Is it destiny that he’s running a sustainable seafood restaurant? No, he says the restaurant industry sort of found him. I caught up with Lofgren after several rounds of phone tag in mid-September, just a few days before he and his fiancée, Catherine, were to get married. Critical acclaim? Expansion? A new wife? Sounds like things are going well.

Does your term ‘ecopreneur’ describe everything you do at Bamboo Sushi? 

I would say so. We’re into innovation and establishing a very creative platform for change. Everything we do is with an environmental and socially responsible bent. If it doesn’t match up with that we won’t do it.

Describe the transition from Masu East to Bamboo Sushi. 

The other owners thought doing a fully sustainable seafood restaurant was a dumb idea. I said, “I disagree, and I’ll buy you out.” I was told, “You don’t know anything about restaurants.” I agreed with that, and was humble enough to admit it. So I worked for free in the restaurant for a year to learn. I decided during that time there were a lot of things we could do better and that my idea was right on. It took about a year and a half to create the [sustainable] supply chain. The fanfare and critical acclaim have justified and vindicated my decision to take this risk. We’re the most lauded, most awarded Japanese restaurant in our state. As far as food goes, it’s our primary focus. You can have sustainable food, but if it tastes like crap nobody will care.

A second Portland restaurant opens soon. Your business is growing, but is your message? 

In short, yes, that’s the whole purpose of what we’re doing. It’s not all about money. There will be more employment in a city that needs it; better benefits for our people. But we want to grow awareness about sustainability. The advantage is to be able to be better. We’re doing more and getting better by growing.

How do you manage the costs of certified-sustainable seafood and supply-chain certification?

We balance it through volume and creative supply-chain management. We looked at large, successful organizations like Darden, Domino’s Pizza and McCormick & Schmick’s — those companies do one thing in common: They buy on a futures market. 

We want the highest quality, most sustainable fish so we go directly to fishermen to establish stable pricing with them. It gets them more money and it controls the supply chain. It was the only way to ensure full traceability of our seafood that wasn’t MSC-certified. Albacore, salmon, crab, shrimp, scallops, black cod — we buy those, anything more than a ton, on a futures basis. We’re guaranteed our product, because we’re first in line.

November 2011 - SeaFood Business 

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