Being at Kusshi Sushi in North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose development is like being a kid in a candy store—literally. In April, as the pandemic set in and owner Wesley Yao was looking for ways to expand sources of revenue, he hit upon an idea. He converted 500 square feet of space in the corner of Kusshi Sushi next to its sushi bar into a snack mart and filled it with upwards of 300 kinds of candy, chips and other savory snacks and non-alcoholic drinks imported mostly from Japan but also from Taiwan and Korea.
“I 100% would not have done this without the pandemic,” says Yao, who was born and raised in Rockville and also owns Hanaro Sushi in Bethesda. “We were a busy restaurant that seated 148 with a check average of $75 per person. I had tables in that area—a six-top and four-top. Then we went to 25% capacity and I had all this space. We were allowed to sell alcohol to go, but there’s no money in that—people make their own drinks at home. So I went the snack route.” Customers are allowed in the store one at a time to shop for snacks; assortment boxes and select individual items are for sale online.
Yao, 33, wanted to bring back memories for everyone, but particularly for Asian people in his age group, and offer things they’ve never tried before. “A lot of these were childhood snacks for me. I joke with my mother that I did this because I wasn’t ever allowed to have any of it,” he says.
Ogling colorful packets of candy and snack food—yuzu salt crackers, variously flavored potato chips (including honey butter, steak and sushi), all kinds of Pocky sticks—crammed in racks floor to ceiling really does bring out the kid in you, and that’s what Yao is hoping. He wants people who are picking up takeout sushi to see the snacks and buy them impulsively.
It’s a marketing ploy he was already familiar with. “Pre-pandemic, I used to hand out sushi lollipops to kids even though they cost me $1 each. Why? Because kids dictate where parents eat. The sushi lollipop reminds them that Kusshi Sushi is a fun place.” The next time the family goes out to eat, Yao figures, the kids will ask to return to the place with the candy.
Assortment boxes curated by Yao and his staff are the best introduction to the snacks. Among the delights in our candy mystery box of about 40 items ($29.99): long, slender, ice cream cone–like cookies (one matcha flavored, one strawberry); a sushi lollipop and various other suckers; chocolate squares; sour candies; fruit-flavored chews; tart hard candy balls; Pocky sticks; candy ramen; bubble gum; Pop Rocks mixed with tiny Sweet Tart–like candies; Twinkie-like cakes; and a Hello Kitty Mallomar-like cake. A Japanese snack mystery box ($29.99), a Pocky lovers grab bag ($49.99) and a Hi-Chew lovers pack ($39.99) are among the assortment boxes offered.
Yao says he’ll continue with the snacks after the pandemic. “We do Insta stories—the snacks are very Instagram and Facebook friendly so they generate interest. Sales are OK, but we give away 25 to 35% of the snacks. If someone orders a bag of shrimp chips in the original flavor, I might throw in some other flavors, like yuzu pepper, hot garlic and wasabi ones, so they try something different. If someone had to wait too long for their takeout, I’ll give them snacks.” It may be the only time you pick up food and hope it’s not ready when you get there.
Kusshi Sushi Snack Mart, 11826 Trade St., North Bethesda (Pike & Rose), 240-770-0355, kusshisushi.com
Pay attention as you drive along Howard Avenue in Kensington so you don’t miss the driveway between the buildings at 4140A and 4132—it leads you behind an antiques store to Dalia’s Falafel, where Ben Assaraf, 27, and Cody Chatham, 26, sell that chickpea-based Middle Eastern staple from tables set up in front of a storage unit that Assaraf’s father owns. The business partners, both from Rockville, have been friends since their days at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.
“We wanted to start a food business and were thinking about doing a taco truck or stand,” Assaraf says. “We switched because everyone’s doing tacos already and falafel’s more authentic to my family, who’s from Israel. I was the first to be born [in the U.S.].”
The business is named after Assaraf’s mother, Dalia, who supplied family recipes for the falafel and its accompanying sauces—tahini and spicy schug (a verdant, spicy puree of cilantro, red chili pepper, garlic and olive oil). For the falafel, dried chickpeas are soaked overnight, then chopped finely in a food processor with cilantro, parsley, onions, garlic and jalapenos. The mixture is formed into large, flat patties that are fried in canola oil and served two to an order, either as a pita sandwich or in bowl form without bread. Both come with tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, red cabbage, pickles, red onions and the two sauces. Making the falafel into patties instead of balls, Assaraf says, means he can fit more toppings in the sandwiches. (They are truly bountiful.)
Dalia’s is a basic operation. Assaraf and Chatham prepare all the falafel components at a commercial kitchen they rent in Rockville, then transport them to Kensington, where they have a refrigerator, a portable fryer and a microwave (for warming the pita) in the storage unit. Chatham’s parents are in on the act, too—they both work for a food distributor and helped track down the pita bread from a bakery in New Jersey.
Judging from the small crowd waiting for orders when we visited, word has gotten out about Dalia’s. “What makes Dalia’s better than anyone else’s is that we load our falafel with tons of herbs and spices like they do in Israel, so when you bite into it, it’s bright green and fluffy and really flavorful,” Assaraf says. We concur.
Dalia’s Falafel, 4128B Howard Ave., Kensington, 240-447-2977, @daliasfalafel on Instagram
Comings & goings
Announced spring arrivals: Chef and restaurateur Victor Albisu will open the first Maryland location of his Virginia-based fast-casual taqueria Taco Bamba in Rockville’s Congressional Plaza. In Bethesda, D.C.-based Salis Holdings will open a mobile app-based takeout and delivery food hall called Ensemble in the old South Street Steaks space on Cordell Avenue. A Caribbean restaurant, Little Island Kitchen, is slated to open in Montgomery Village in March.
Java Nation, which has cafes in Kensington and North Bethesda, will open a location in Gaithersburg’s Kentlands development this summer.
Olney’s Al Sospiro Trattoria closed in December. It had been open since 2007.
January saw several closings, including Lighthouse Tofu & BBQ, a Korean restaurant that operated in Rockville for 15 years. Nick’s Chophouse in Rockville’s King Farm development made its temporary COVID closing permanent. Krazy Steve’s Comfort Cuisine, which opened in Silver Spring in June 2019, closed the doors of its barbecue restaurant but will continue to offer catering.