Sushi Fix Owner Adds Mexican Coastal Seafood to Repertoire
Enkhbileg “Billy” Tserenbat is a Mongolian immigrant with a sushi pedigree and cooking chops that extend to Mexican coastal seafood.
The first time Enkhbileg “Billy” Tserenbat took his Bibuta food truck in search of sushi lovers, he found a prime spot to park, right in front of the busy downtown Minneapolis IDS Center. He sold $700 worth of sushi, and thought he had found the mother lode, until another food trucker took him aside to explain the rules of the street. He was parked in the one spot that was totally illegal.
The next day he set out earlier, but all the legal spots were taken. “So I found a spot in front of a fire hydrant,” he says. “The other operators told me to move, but I needed to sell this fish. I had $2,000 worth of fish in the truck.”
Around noon he spotted a parking enforcement officer walking her beat, so he quickly dumped out a box of chopsticks and placed the box over the hydrant. He asked several women who were standing in line to hang around the now covered hydrant to hide it from the officer’s view. They laughingly complied.
By Monday, “I had the buzz going,” he says. Turns out the women were food bloggers and they not only loved his sushi, they loved his attitude.
Tserenbat is proof of his theory that sushi chefs not only have to be skilled with a knife, but also need a big personality. The ritual around sushi is watching the chef make the complicated rolls and cones, but chefs need to entertain as well, plus get to know the guests and their tastes.
It’s hard to entertain from a food truck window, so a little over five years ago Tserenbat opened a brick-and-mortar location, Sushi Fix, in a strip mall in Wayzata. He chose Wayzata because “the people here travel internationally and they appreciate this quality of food.”
It’s Tserenbat’s nonchalant, yet passionate, charm that draws people to him. On the day I interviewed him, he had his eight-month-old daughter strapped to his chest and was feeding her a bottle as we talked. He hails from Mongolia, even though he’s a master at sushi and has just opened a Mexican restaurant, Baja Haus, a few doors down from Sushi Fix.
While at first the cuisines at the two restaurants seem unrelated, there’s a calculated plan, which put simply is: Sushi Fix is for people who like raw fish; Baja Haus is for people who are scared by raw fish. The cooked fish lovers’ menu includes tequila lime prawns, Baja red snapper and diver-caught scallops, with fresh fruit salsas.
Both restaurants are only open for dinner. “We don’t have happy hours,” he says emphatically. “We have quality and want to serve people who appreciate that.”
The Silly Billy roll has a light sauce so you can taste the fish.
Cooks come in around 10 a.m. to noon to start the day’s prep, “so that at 5 p.m. everything is fresh.” Keeping hours friendly and cooks happy is paramount. “Angry chef, not good food,” he says.
If there’s one secret to making good sushi, it’s to use the freshest fish. Tserenbat has his supply flown in daily from Japan.
“When we run out of fish, we put up a sign we’re closed,” he says, adding that it’s not always a popular decision, but it is a necessary one.
All fish is not the same, he points out, and “a chef’s duty is to make all the fish taste the same,” which is where the skill comes in.
“Sushi takes dedication and paying attention to all the details,” he explains. “It’s your duty to understand your customer.” And to share your happiness, he says.
Tserenbat was a Global Sushi Challenge contender two years running, representing the U.S., and his restaurant is accredited. Sharing his knowledge is paramount to running a good restaurant.
“It doesn’t matter how much knowledge I have, if I’m not sharing it, I’m zero,” he says.
He thinks of his staff as family, but closes on every major holiday so they can “hang out with their real families,” he says.
While Sushi Fix is very Japanese, Baja Haus features coastal Mexican food, going for a surfer, beach cruiser vibe. Decor is both decorative and practical. Boxes of beer are stacked in the windows, not only for ambiance, but to block the headlight glare from cars parking in front of the restaurant. Beach cruisers hang from the rafters, and while the restaurant is open, there are still finishing touches such as hanging surfboards and adding another ocean mural that need to be done. They’re also adding some acoustical panels. “When we first came into here, we didn’t have 100 people standing here,” he said, explaining the tweaks necessity.
When Tserenbat gives me a tour of the closed restaurant (it’s a Monday), what he wants to show me first is the dishwashing station. It’s in the front of the open kitchen. Most dishwashers are hid in the back of the kitchen and they don’t feel like part of the team, he says.
“The No. 1 person is the dishwasher,” he continues. They scrape the leftover food off the plates, and can tell management what the waste is so they can adjust. “The trash is an inventory tool,” he adds.
Sushi Fix has one of the largest selections of sake and Japanese whiskey. Baja Fresh, on the other hand, has three to four different types of margaritas. He’s brought in Josh Friedt to help with the bar menu at Baja; and Chef Zack Schugel helped him with the recipes.
His wife has told him to stop at two restaurants and a food truck, “but as crazy as I am, I’ll figure out a way for more,” he predicts. But that won’t include a Mongolian restaurant. Mongolia may be in his blood, but its cuisine isn’t in his wheelhouse.