After Tanner Loebel set out to pick up his favorite sushi option, he started disassembling it.
From each piece of sushi, Loebel poked out the tuna and scraped off the rice and cucumber, placing each component on a scale to find out its weight.
He was searching for the answer to a question: how could staff double or triple the amount of sushi, for the same price?
Lobel said the answer is found in his restaurant Pacific Counter, which is inspired by his own experiences as a sushi fan wishing for a restaurant that was fast and affordable, as well as a place people could visit after the gym or at any time of day.
Loebel said the concept, which centers on sushi burritos and poke bowls, is catching on with the public, which prompted the expansion of the restaurant to Sarasota, with a location in The Landings, on Oct. 6.
“They want a healthy food that tastes good, but they need it to be convenient and consistent. And that’s where Pacific Counter comes in; we bridge that gap of tasting good and being healthy at the same time,” Loebel said.
He said the restaurant even uses the same quality of ingredients found at a typical sushi restaurant, offering many nutrient-rich foods and superfoods, due to its ability to cut costs in other areas.
The restaurant does not have the costs that come with a 5,000-square-foot building, a large staff, or several sushi chefs, he said, instead favoring a streamlined efficiency.
But what’s the secret to making the format work?
“Heavy, heavy preparation,” he said.
Fortunately, overseeing the preparation each day is Tock Noythanongsay, who brings a background in traditional sushi restaurants. Noythanongsay has been one of three partners of the restaurant since it was established, alongside Loebel and Eric Bialik.
The prep staff arrive early, working throughout the day, and at night, peeling and slicing fruit, fileting fish and more, to place items on the assembly line.
From there, staff can assemble the restaurant's major offerings, which consist of Poke bowls and sushi burritos.
“Our motto is to make every item like it was going on an influencer’s Instagram, because we want people to eat with their eyes,” Loebel said.
Loebel said one reason for the appeal of the burrito is “the sheer size of it." The sushi burrito offers an amount about three times what is found in a regular sushi roll.
To make the burritos, the restaurant sources special oversized, seasoned 16-inch nori sheets from Korea.
“You feel like you get a good bang for your buck,” Loebel said. “I also just think it's fun to eat. We love eating burritos, so why not eat one with sushi?”
Loebel emphasized the restaurant also offers something for everyone, including vegans, those who are gluten free, or those who prefer cooked items. Other offerings include chicken, veggies, crabs, shrimp and more, with barbecue chicken being a No. 1 seller, he said.
He said another big draw of the restaurant is that it also aims for customizability, with build-your-own items being its top selling offering.
This decision was inspired by his experience trying to select from the available items at sushi restaurants, he said.
For five years in a row, it was recognized as the best poke bowl in Tampa Bay, he said, and in 2022, was named among Yelp’s top 100 restaurants in Florida.
Loebel said as a result, the restaurant gained something of a destination appeal, expanding to Sarasota for the same reason it did from St. Pete, where it was founded in 2018, to Lakewood Ranch in 2021 – that customers were traveling from that area to visit the restaurant.
Some of his favorite restaurants are found in The Landings already, he said, making it a fitting location.
Ian Swaby is the Sarasota neighbors writer for the Observer. Ian is a Florida State University graduate of Editing, Writing, and Media and previously worked in the publishing industry in the Cayman Islands.