The founder of Bamboo Sushi in Portland, Oregon, the world’s first sushi restaurant to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, calls himself an ecopreneur. Kristofor traces his fish back to sustainable sources and works with fishermen who catch using pole and troll, hook and line, and a Japanese harvesting method called ike jime.
How did you get into the sustainable sushi business?
Sushi is by far the most intricate, fascinating, difficult, and artful food that can be created. When I got an offer to partner on a sushi restaurant, I took the opportunity. Back in 2006 there were other sustainable restaurants starting to pop up so I said to my partners, “Why don’t we try to be sustainable?” They said, “Nah. Nobody will care.”
What pushed me over the edge was a National Geographic article on overfishing and seafood sustainability. That was the impetus for me to start caring. I’d seen the Monterey Bay Aquarium wallet guides, but they hadn’t done anything sushi-specific. So I called them. They said they’d love to partner with me.
What does it mean to be an “ecopreneur”?
I’m an entrepreneur who sees no shame in wanting to make money for my employees, my shareholders, and the vendors we work with. The trick is making money and doing something positive. An ecopreneur doesn’t give up on the fact that there is money to be made while also pushing the status quo beyond its social and environmental boundaries.
There are sushi restaurants that have sustainable options in addition to bluefin tuna and farmed salmon. They say they’re letting customers choose. That’s not the right way to go. You have to take a stand.
How do you work with the fishermen?
We have exclusive rights to a number of different fishing vessels on the West Coast and in other areas of the world. We don’t own or lease the boats, but we have majority ownership of the catch and exclusive contracts with the fishermen in perpetuity. As long as they continue fishing, we guarantee that we’ll buy product.
There are people who fish sustainability that we’d never buy from because their fish doesn’t meet our quality standards. Our fish have to be delicately caught as well as precisely bled, frozen, gutted, and transported. If I had a sustainable fish-and-chips shop, it would be a hell of a lot easier. You can throw those fish around and they’ll still come out of the deep fryer tasting pretty good.
What are you working on now?
We’re creating a new business model called “consumer regeneration.” By consuming a resource you need to be able to put that resource back. Just buying sustainable seafood isn’t going to keep fish in the oceans. Making sure that there are fish in the oceans and protecting fish habitats is what’s going to do it.
Bamboo Sushi has a simple premise: For every one fish we sell, we want to put two fish back in the ocean. We work hand-in-hand with the Monterey Bay Aquarium, The Nature Conservancy, WWF, and the Aspen Institute. The more you eat sushi with us, the more of the planet you are going to save.
What's your favorite fish and why?
My favorite fish to eat is mackerel; it’s healthy and low in toxins. As you become a fish connoisseur you like bolder flavors. Mackerel is definitely a fish-lovers fish: It’s delicious and underappreciated.