Business Profiles

Hissho Sushi: Certain victory!

In Endeavour Magazine we have often featured companies that have risen-up from the humblest of beginnings to become industry leaders in their fields, whether regionally or even internationally. It can safely be said that few, if any, however, began life from beginnings quite as humble as that of Hissho Sushi’s inspiring CEO and Founder, Philip Maung.

Hissho Sushi is the culmination of a remarkable rags to riches journey of a remarkable man. It is a real-life tale of passion and belief, hard work and eventual hard-earned success; more than this, though, it is proof that the American Dream still exists for those willing and hungry enough to reach up and seize it. And boy, has Philip reaped the rewards.

With over 1,000 sushi and Pan-Asian hotbars and kiosks in operation across having recently been named amongst SmartCEO’s Charlotte Future 50 Awards, business at Hissho Sushi is booming. Endeavour Magazine had the pleasure of catching-up with Philip to find out more.

If you haven’t heard the name of Hissho Sushi, or that of the company’s founder Philip Maung outside of the US just yet, you’d be forgiven. Equally, however, you can be rest assured that both names are ones you will begin to hear a lot more of over the years to come.

The story of both man and company is one of determination, ambition, and tireless hard work, fit to suit the Hissho namesake – meaning ‘certain victory.’ After beginning life as a humble husband and wife set-up out of Philip’s family home in Charlotte, North Carolina, just 9 years after he arrived on US shores with a pocketful of dollars to his name, today, Hissho Sushi has been on the Hot 500 list of fastest growing businesses in the US, and was recently named to the Inc 5000 list of the fastest growing privately owned business in the US for the 6th time in seven years.

It is a food retail giant of sorts with over 1,000 outlets across more than 42 states and rising, boasting an annual revenue in excess of US$100 million. But rather than sell its menu of sushi snacks from the branded restaurants that are usually the signature of a major food retail brand, Hissho Sushi does things a little differently.

Hissho’s delicious Spicy Salmon, Tuna-Avocado, and California rolls, along with its Chicken Gyoza, Nippon Favorite, Inari, and Nagano Special, instead, vie for space with a wide range of other Pan-Asian bites in the display cases of Hissho’s fresh sushi bar and Pan-Asian hot bar kiosks in shops, supermarkets, airports, corporate facilities and universities across the length and breadth of the US.
As Philip explained, the logic behind this is simple: “Hissho Sushi is aimed at yuppies and young professionals who often don’t have time to sit down in a restaurant and have a sit down meal. Our customers are time-short, so to cater to them we offer a ‘grab and go’ system so that wherever they are, however much of a rush they are in, they can pick up a Hissho Sushi on the move.” It is this convenience which has proved to be a main ingredient for Hissho’s rip-roaring rise from being a one man band to becoming one of the sector’s industry leaders.

The key to Hissho’s ‘Certain Victory’: restaurant-grade quality, affordability, and convenience

Since the company first opened for business in 1998, Hissho Sushi has steadily perfected the business of delivering restaurant-grade sushi to customers at affordable prices into a fine art. But more importantly than this, however, Hissho makes its high-grade, affordable sushi easily accessible. Wherever customers are, whatever they’re doing, whether they are at work or at play or in a rush, the chances are Hissho Sushi will be available. How could fine snacking be more convenient?

Hungry sushi lovers can pick-up a box from a Hissho Sushi kiosk at their local shop along while they buy milk and bread, or while waiting for a connection at the airport; when at corporate conferences with work, or on campus at university. It’s sushi made easy; really easy, and it’s made easy without compromising on freshness. Hissho Sushi is synonymous with quality, and the delivery of quality begins and ends with its dedicated, expert chefs who are trained the Hissho way at the company’s Charlotte, NC headquarters at Steele Creek Road.

On this, Andrea Lee, Head of Corporate Communications at Hissho, explained: “Hissho recruits and trains chefs and supervisors at our headquarters in Charlotte, NC. These same people are then sent back into the field to operate our sushi bars, or Pan-Asian hot bars, either as a franchisee or employee. Fresh sushi or hot bar items are made fresh every day, using product shipped from Hissho Sushi HQ, and always purchasing their produce locally to ensure the freshest available.”
She continued: “CEO Philip Maung insists on the very best quality across the board for all of the ingredients that go into any of our products. Our items are made fresh every day and our customers can rest assured that they are getting the best of the best.”

Dreams of a better life, self-belief and hard work – the foundations upon which success is built

What is there to say? When you take into consideration for a moment that he has built a food retail empire and a multi-million dollar fortune only two decades after landing on US shores with just $13 in his pocket, Hissho Sushi’s success can, to say the least, be considered be a job very well done on the part of Philip Maung.

The Hissho Sushi success story is an inspiring, true-life tale about just what can be achieved by somebody with little, but who dreams big; somebody who has an insatiable hunger for a better life, and who has the work ethic, belief, invention and dynamism to pursue it. As anybody who has looked up at the stars from a life of seemingly hopeless poverty knows, a dream of a better life is the most powerful of drivers for success. What Philip lacked in money or connections he more than made up for in endeavour, incredible self-belief, his desire to achieve success and, no less importantly, happiness. And make no mistake about it; the Hissho story is still in its early chapters.

That the business has more than doubled in size over the past three years alone speaks volumes; more so, when you take into account that this doubling has occurred in-line with Hissho Sushi’s somewhat conservative growth strategy, which is “in the manner of a tortoise; slow and steady wins the race.” A particularly apt metaphor, since the tortoise has a very long lifespan.

Business is booming, as they say, but while Hissho Sushi’s portfolio continues to expand, with new locations being added each month, that isn’t to say the company has had things entirely its own way. The food retail sector is a big money game, and as one would expect the company faces fierce competition from rival businesses, some of whom have been open for business much longer than Hissho’s 18-years. Added to this, there is also the additional threat posed by a number of ambitious, exciting new start-ups that are emerging, all of who are hungry and ready to cut into Hissho’s formidable market share should the opportunity present itself. But as of yet, the company has proven resilient to the best efforts of the competition.

Not that Philip is overly concerned: “Our marketplace is competitive, but that’s life. Whatever you do, in business or in life, there is competition everywhere. We’re aware of the competition but we don’t focus on it. We focus inwards; on delivering quality and building a culture in which our staff are happy and motivated, and which is true to our values.”

Hissho Sushi: Not just a company but a way of life

The company which Philip has lovingly nurtured over the years is more than a company; it’s a way of life. The Hissho brand is instantly recognisable, chic, and much-loved by the hipsters, creatives and young professionals who make up much of its customer base. And, besides, which of its competitors has such a charismatic, instantly recognisable personality at the helm?

No, the only real challenges that have stood in Hissho Sushi’s way have been internal in nature, related to the company’s, at times difficult 19-year journey from start-up to food retail giant. The process of growing first from a small out-of-the-home-kitchen start-up to a mid-sized local and regional player, and then finally a cross-continental hegemon with a presence in more than 42 states doesn’t come without its difficulties. Such a transition will always lead a company to experience its fair share of growing pain, even if the transition is a slow one. Maintaining a winning corporate culture and attracting staff who are truly invested in a company’s values in such instances is difficult. When, like Hissho Sushi, such a transition is made over a 10-year period of frenzied, rapid growth, it can be near impossible to maintain the identity and values that first brought about your success in the first place.

The importance of Hissho Sushi’s 11 Core Values, and its winning team of staff

Philip Maung found this out the hard way. After a first decade of incredible growth, during which Maung in his words “hired staff left and right,” he stepped back in the end for a breather, only to realise he presided over a divided business with a clear lack of identity, and more than a few employees who hadn’t bought into his values, nor were as invested in Hissho’s success as they should have been.

Finally, this led to Philip creating a ‘once voice, one culture’ ideal, and the creation of Hissho Sushi’s 11 Core Values – the philosophy by which he and his employees live out each and every day; a philosophy which he regrets not implementing from the off. Maintaining a small company, family culture is central to Hissho Sushi. It acts as the anchor by which it preserves the values and identities that have underpinned its success, and fosters togetherness and loyalty among its 340 or so staff – the men and women without whom the company could never have achieved what it has achieved.
On this, Andrea told us: “Each member of Hissho’s 340 or so staff is carefully vetted and trained specifically to not only be able to perform their job, but are cross-trained to improve efficiency.
Hissho’s benefit package is generous and includes a matched 401k, 90% of healthcare costs paid by the company, flex time, free activities like yoga and weight training with a personal instructor, an on-site library, exercise equipment, basketball, ping-pong, a communal patio with a fire pit, and numerous company-funded outside activities.”

She continues, “Hissho employees also have the opportunity to rise up through the ranks – we have added great talent to senior staff and management teams, who rose up through the ranks after gaining experience. The prefect example would be our Director of Logistics, Hsiao Wen. Wen started out with us 15-years ago as company sushi chef, and today she heads up our logistics team and supervises its operations. Processing weekly orders from chefs and staff working out in the field, warehouse operations and shipping, is a hugely challenging job with a lot of responsibility – only somebody who understands the business from the ground up could do it.”
All in all, it is clear to see that Hissho Sushi is a progressive company that is on the up, and its journey to the top is far from over. In Philip’s view, the coming 5-years will see the company doing what it does best, namely delivering great, accessible Asian cuisine. He said: “We will continue expanding steadily, but something we are aiming to do is to improve our product offerings beyond sushi. Already we have a range of Pan-Asian products that are available, but there is room for growth in this area. That will be our focus in the short to medium-term.”