Sushi popularity soaring among college crowd

Minh Trinh, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Florida, instructs Brenda Nguyen as to how he wants his sushi bowl from Dragonfly Rolls 'n' Bowls on Friday afternoon.

TRICIA COYNE/Special to The Sun
Published: Monday, January 23, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 22, 2006 at 10:22 p.m.
Jade Helfant couldn't stomach the thought of eating raw fish until she tried it.
Now, the University of Florida sophomore indulges herself with daily portions of raw tuna and salmon wrapped in rice.
Helfant is one of many UF students hooked on sushi, and the Gainesville food industry is responding.
"The concept of eating raw fish makes some people want to barf," she said. "Once you get someone over the initial fear, sushi can become an addiction."
In addition to traditional sit-down restaurants, sushi is available from some local supermarket counters, fast-food establishments and on-campus eateries such as the Noodle Bar in the Reitz Union.
The once-handful of Gainesville restaurants serving sushi has tripled in the past 10 years, said Hiro Leung, co-owner of the Dragonfly Sushi & Sake Company in downtown Gainesville.
Dragonfly expanded its downtown restaurant in the fall, adding 80 more seats and 40 employees, to accommodate a rise in popularity.
Leung and his partner Song Kim introduced Rolls 'n' Bowls, a fast-food sushi establishment, in November. The restaurant caters to students looking for fresh, healthy and made-to-order food in a short period of time.
The décor and ambiance of sushi restaurants may attract students looking for a social scene.
"Students are searching for trendy places as opposed to traditional restaurants," said Jimmy Tung, a manager at Bento Café in Royal Park Plaza.
Many sushi restaurants are referred to as lounges, featuring comfortable couches, wide-screen televisions, vibrant paintings, dimmed lighting and jam-packed bars.
"Gainesville sushi lounges offer a hip, urban, artistic and high-tech environment in the middle of cow country," said Eric Orner, 20, a junior business major.
Orner dines at a local sushi lounge each weekend and said that it's the best place in Gainesville to meet girls.
The concept of izakaya, a form of sharing dishes between friends, adds to the social environment of sushi lounges and might be part of the attraction of students looking for a night out.
Students order different kinds of sushi rolls for the table, then share with their friends, said Dave Talpasz, a manager at Dragonfly.
"Sharing dishes opens the palate to different tastes and makes dinner more exciting than usual," he said.
Avery Jaffe, 19, a nutritional sciences major and member of Alpha Epsilon Phi, said she and her sorority sisters order sushi twice a week and share rolls.
"We're on a first-name basis with some of the sushi restaurant owners in town," she said. "They know our order before we even walk through the door."
The age of calorie counting and carbohydrate crunching likely turns some students onto sushi.
Sushi is an excellent source of protein, vitamin A and vitamin D. It's low in carbohydrates, promotes longevity and healthy skin and hair, according to WebMD.
"Students don't want to leave a restaurant feeling heavy," said Leung. "They want food that will energize and not put them to sleep after eating a big meal."
Tung said some students order sushi without the rice to cut down on carbohydrates.
Leung said that the fast-food sushi is popular with undergraduates, because it's cheaper than lounges and quicker than a sit-down meal. The sushi is prepared in three-to-five minutes and doesn't involve leaving a tip.
Leung added that sushi likely will remain popular for many years since these days young children grow up eating it. He has 10-year-old customers asking for the freshest fish in the restaurant.
"We're going to give Gerber baby food a run for their money," he joked.

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