CRYSTAL LAKE – Aaron Nei lives his life one sushi roll at a time.
He immigrated to New York with the rest of his family more than a decade ago to be with his father, who had already made the journey from China.
More than 16 years later, the 30-year-old has opened his own restaurant with a trendy twist – Kumi Sushi in Crystal Lake.
“I came here for the same reason anyone comes to the United States, to pursue a better life,” Nei said. “America is where dreams come true."
After living in New York during his teen years, Nei moved to Bloomington, Minn., where he attended Academy College, a small private school south of Minneapolis.
He dropped out of school after two years, unsure of a career path.
“It was fun, but pursing something fun isn’t always pursing something for life,” Nei said. “I wasn’t sure what to do next.”
He and his family then decided to move back to China, and Nei dabbled in real estate and buffet-style Chinese restaurants.
Having grown fond of American culture, Nei decided to move to Crystal Lake near relatives to pursue a new endeavor – sushi.
“I didn’t like the lifestyle anymore in China and got used to the U.S.,” Nei said. “It was very hard working conditions with the buffet restaurants. There is such artful way when it comes to serving sushi.”
Nei opened the Japanese fusion restaurant in late February after pouring in more than $500,000 to renovate the building located at 1145 S. Route 31.
Designed by Nei himself, modern décor inside includes LED lighting behind window frames with a slideshow playing combined with an intimate dining area. Chefs can also be seen at any time preparing sushi behind the sushi bar.
“The atmosphere here is more trendy,” Nei said. “This is the place for that 20s, 30s and 40s crowd who like sushi and can’t get to [Chicago].”
Professional sushi chefs from New York, who focus on presentation and flavor, prepare the food. Fresh fish is delivered daily from Chicago, and the menu also includes hibachi, fried rice, noodles and soup, to name a few, for those who don’t like raw fish. The restaurant also features a full-service bar.
“There is some connection between the customers and sushi chefs that’s just unexplainable,” Nei said. “We try to get to know the customers here, instead of people just coming and going.”
Running a restaurant on his own has been a learning experience thus far.
“You’ll always have some bumps in the road, but you learn how to fix them,” said Nei. “We are getting better and better and now what we need to do is attract people. We hope to be here for a long time.”
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What: A Japanese fusion restaurant with a trendy atmosphere
Where: 1145 S. Route 31, Crystal Lake
Information: Call 779-220-0288 or visit www.facebook.com/KumiSushi