New sushi restaurant returns Asian cuisine to Sweet Home

By Benny Westcott
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

Sushi in Sweet Home?

Until April 7, that had never been an option.

However, residents and visitors can now enjoy the Asian cuisine at Osaka Sushi, 658 Main Street.

The sit-down restaurant – Sweet Home’s fourth (not counting fast food), according to Chamber of Commerce Director Lagea Mull – popped up in the space previously occupied by Swans, a Chinese eatery that shut down last July when, according to a Facebook post from Xin Yu, a member of the Swans ownership family, the building’s landlord decided to not fix a sewer-line issue on the property.

Sweet Home resident Robert Egner said he was bummed by that closure, but pumped when Osaka hit the ground running.

Osaka Sushi now occupies the Main Street location that until last year was home to the Chinese food restaurant Swans.

“To have any type of other Asian stuff here is a huge win, in my opinion,” he said. “I still think that I would really like to have another Chinese food place at some point, but I think that [Osaka Sushi] fills a massive need, because there’s nothing else in Sweet Home that even comes close to it.”

He ordered from its menu the day after it opened, securing meals for a party of eight that included his wife, three children and three of his children’s friends. He described the restaurant’s atmosphere as “crazy busy,” with eight to 10 groups of people waiting for seating while 10 to 12 people awaited online orders.

“I think that it definitely fills a need, and that’s proven by how busy they are,” he said. “Even now you drive by, and there’s anywhere from eight to 15 cars out there. The community was definitely ready for something different and something new.”

Osaka manager Alice Lee agreed that the pace was hectic but talked about customers’ positive reactions.

“They like it,” she said. “They say they are so happy. We came to Sweet Home so they can eat sushi. Before, they ate sushi in another city. It’s so far for them. Now, it’s more convenient. Our goal is to bring fresh sushi and the greatest service for everyone.”

Lee moved to the city a month ago after waitressing for several Japanese restaurants in Portland. She’s friends with Osaka Sushi owner Anne Chen, who still lives in Portland, and they scoped out Sweet Home as a possible location.

“The people are so nice, and there is no sushi restaurant here,” Lee said. “So we decided to open the sushi restaurant here.”

Other staff members include sushi chef Tony Chen, who’s worked at his craft for about six years, and two cooks with four and 10 years of experience apiece.

Tony Chen, left, and Alice Lee work in the kitchen at the restaurant.

A scroll through Osaka’s website (www.osakasushisweethome.com) reveals an expansive menu, with offerings such as vegetable rolls, ramen, udon soup and, of course, a variety of sushi. Lee noted that customers who don’t like their fare raw can have it cooked.

“I was really impressed with the menu,” Egner said. “I think they have a bigger menu than every place I’ve ordered from.”

Egner himself went for the shotgun roll and shrimp yaki udon.

“They were both amazing,” he said. “The shotgun roll might have been my favorite sushi I’ve ever ordered. It was super good. I like good sushi, and I think that they’re better than the other places around here.”

Angelita Sanchez, in addition to her status as a Sweet Home city councilor, is also something of a sushi connoisseur, having eaten it since she was 8 years old. Since it wasn’t available anywhere locally when she was a child, her father would make it fresh at home for special occasions. Her family has since traveled all over Oregon for the freshest ingredients and spent many birthdays at Portland’s Pioneer Square for all-you-can-eat sushi dinners.

“Now, we do not need to drive anywhere or make it ourselves; we can eat right here at Osaka,” she said. “I have eaten sushi from places as far as Florida and Hawaii. I am so very grateful they chose to bring this cuisine here, plus it’s one of the best I have ever enjoyed. We are fortunate to have this quality of sushi in Sweet Home.”

And Osaka is more than happy to provide.

“I like the United States,” said Lee, who arrived in America from China five years ago.

“It’s freedom. You can do everything you want.”

Including, thanks to her efforts, eating at a sushi restaurant in Sweet Home.