Uma Temakeria, a fast-casual concept in New York City, specializes in hand-rolled sushi and responsible sourcing, and is known for introducing the first sushi burrito to the Big Apple. We explore the brand in this "Fast Casual Nation" vignette.
“I was trying to convert my fine-dining background into something that was a little bit more accessible,” says Chris Jaeckle, chef and co-founder at Uma Temakeria. “So my passion for high-quality ingredients and my desire to offer this accessibility to people is what essentially fueled this idea of Uma.”
The phrase “New York minute,” meaning a very short time, is not coined as such out of coincidence. New York is a city of bustling movement, where abruptly stopping on a city sidewalk is not an option. It’s this type of on-the-go consumer behavior, rooted in the local lifestyle, that restaurant operators — especially in a place like New York — need to keep in mind to stay on their game.
The sushi burritos are Uma’s top sellers, followed by the spicy tuna temaki and the tsumi tuna temaki. Temaki, says Jaeckle — who began studying culinary at vocational school in his high school years — is sushi in a non-traditional shape, like in a cone.
More than the vehicle in which Uma’s fare is served in, the concept is also known for its values. “One of our main missions here is to raise awareness around responsibly sourced fish,” says Cynthia Kueppers, co-founder at Uma Temakeria. “And that’s not an easy mission….it’s very hard to know where your fish is coming from.”
When sourcing fish, the Uma team looks at the type of species they want to use, how the fish are caught, where they come from, and the method(s) used to catch the product. “It’s pull- or line-caught, which means there’s not a lot of by-catch. You’re not necessarily running nets through the ocean, catching a lot of things that you’re not ultimately going to use,” she notes. “They micro-process the fish right on the docks, so it avoids the global seafood supply chain, which often sends things around the globe many times before it lands on your plate.”
Like many fast casuals, Uma follows a Chipotle-style line model, where customers first choose their vehicle (bowl, burrito, temaki) and are then guided down the line and given customization options: white or brown rice, protein choices, sauce selection, vegetables, and garnishes, before its final assembly.
“Ultimately, at least in the bubble that is New York City, people will pay for a quality ingredient if they feel like they’re getting value,” says Jaeckle. “It’s all about value perception.”
Kueppers ties it all back to what’s happening in today’s food world. “There is a change going on. I think there is a food revolution. You look at what some of these other consumer brands have been able to do to change how they supply, and it’s gotten the conversation going in a way that other methods haven’t.” She continues, “Using for-profit consumer brands to actually change behavior has been reasonably powerful and I think it will continue to gain traction. And we love to be a part of that.”