MARIEMONT, Ohio - Forget the Tater Tots. Mariemont junior high and high school students have a new lunch option each Thursday: sushi.
"It's the first thing we've had aside from cafeteria food. It's a nice change," said junior Julia Lynch. Lynch, who serves on the school's Student Curriculum Committee, played a role in bringing the new lunch option to Mariemont through a program called Sushi in Schools.
Through the Sushi in Schools program, offered from Fusian’s new Kenwood location, students can select from one of five types of sushi rolls. None of them involve raw fish, which can be obstacle for some young people. Lynch admits she was not a fan of sushi initially. However, she’s found that she likes Fusian's chicken roll.
Josephine McKenrick, director of communications for Mariemont City Schools, said the Sushi in Schools program offers a healthy option for students.
"It's very introductory sushi, I think, because it's not just raw fish. None of the meats are raw in these rolls, actually. It's not so scary," McKenric said.
How it works
Sushi in Schools is a program through which Fusian partners with area schools to offer sushi for lunch one day a week. It is available at no cost to the schools involved. It began at Mariemont in early April.
One or two Fusian employees go to a partner school during lunch on a specified day with a set number of sushi rolls. (See photo above) Students go through the lunch line as usual, but those who want to buy sushi rather than school lunches purchase a ticket for $7 with cash or through their student lunch accounts. After presenting the ticket to a Fusian employee, a student can select a pre-packaged 10-piece sushi roll.
The options available to Mariemont students include Fusian's signature shrimp tempura, shrimp tempura and crab, chicken, veggie and California rolls. Students can customize their rolls by adding toppings, including spicy mayo, sweet soy, tempura crunch and sesame seeds.
For students who want to try sushi but are uncertain about buying a whole roll, free samples were available the first three weeks.
A promising start
Mariemont High School students got their first taste of Sushi in Schools on April 10, when Kenwood Fusian brought 40 sushi rolls, as well as some free samples. After the first of two lunch periods, only seven remained and the last of the sushi rolls were gone within the first five minutes of the second lunch period.
Senior Danny Stacy gave the sushi rave reviews.
"I'm really glad they got that. I love sushi. I would have liked to get crab, but they were out, so I got shrimp and crab and loved it," he said.
Sophomore Grace Gerred said sushi is "a pretty controversial topic" among her friends because of concern about eating raw fish. That didn’t stop Gerred who tried a sushi roll for lunch.
"It's my favorite food," she said.
How Sushi in Schools began
The program, which began about two years ago, "came out of necessity," said Fusian co-founder Stephan Harman. In an effort to market their restaurant to a wider audience, Harman and co-founders Zach and Josh Weprin sought to offer catering.
"In our business, catering is huge. And sushi, here in the Midwest is still a new meal. So selling sushi to an office was very difficult,” Harman said. “Sushi's more of a higher risk item for palates that haven't had it before."
Harman and the Weprins initially brought sushi to a social studies class at Oakwood High School in Dayton, and taught students about the history of the food. Shortly after that, they started a partnership with the school and the Sushi in Schools program was born.
In addition to partnering with schools to offer an alternative lunch menu item, Fusian representatives still visit schools once or twice a year to teach students about sushi. They have spoken to a vegetarian club as well as business and law classes.
"We're a young company with young minds who influence this company, so we've been able to tap into just about every aspect of the educational system whether it's agriculture and farming food, to business and all the different aspects of running a successful business,” Harman said.
“We've been able to interact in so many different ways with so many education institutions," he said.
Sushi as a healthy option
With multiple food groups represented in each roll, sushi offers a complete meal, Harman said. Rolls include rice, which is a grain, as well as vegetables, protein, sodium and vitamins.
"One of our focuses at Mariemont schools is teaching kids about wellness and healthy eating options and taking it into their own hands," the school district’s McKenrick said.
Between the health benefits of sushi and the consideration for dietary restrictions that Fusian's menu addresses, the partnership was a "no-brainer" for district
officials, she said.
Because Mariemont City Schools has a food service contract with Aramark, offering food from another vendor is not the norm. However, district representatives are not closed to the idea of other partnerships. For now they’re testing the waters with Sushi in Schools.
"I don't want to say we're not open to other partnerships, but one thing at a time," McKenrick said.
Starting a partnership
Fusian currently partners with about 20 school districts in Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus. Some of the other partner school districts are Kings, Lakota and Turpin.
Regardless how successful sushi sales might be the program is not expected to expand to more than one day a week in any of the schools, Harman said. Offering Sushi in Schools one day a week for each school keeps demand high and allows Fusian the time and resources to partner with more schools.
Partnerships can stem from requests by students, parents, district officials or food service providers. Fusian representatives will consider partnering with any school, Harman said.
To inquire about Sushi in Schools, Fusian can be contacted online at http://fusian.com/contact/new?topic_id=1.
- Mariemont City Schools: http://www.mariemontschools.org/
- Fusian: http://fusian.com/
- Oakwood High School: http://ohs.oakwood.k12.oh.us/OHS/Welcome.html
- Aramark: http://www.aramark.com/
Connect with WCPO Contributor Roxanna Swift on Twitter: @r0xiehart .