Attention, local sushi connoisseurs: There's a new fish in the pond. Last month, Hardwick-based Vermont Sushi Factory began wholesaling all-organic, made-daily maki in area storefronts and co-ops. Chances are, it's headed for a store near you.
After Jason Lutz and his wife, Sarah, welcomed a newborn daughter earlier this year, Sarah started craving sushi, Lutz recalled via phone last week. But the couple keeps a strict organic diet and couldn't find organic sushi anywhere. So Lutz found organic nori, rice and fillings and started rolling maki himself.
Lo and behold, the sushi was good — good enough to sell. Lutz teamed up with friend and entrepreneur Fred Johnson and rented space from Vermont Soy at its Hardwick plant. The Lutzes began selling maki, first to Hardwick's Buffalo Mountain Food Co-op & Café, then to other stores in their area. In the past few weeks, they've expanded to retailers in Stowe and Chittenden County.
"I realized that the end product is all about ingredients," Lutz said. While traditional Japanese restaurants generally sell very fresh fish, he went on, the other ingredients are "the cheapest they can get."
By contrast, everything in a Vermont Sushi Factory roll is organic, from the jasmine rice to the accompanying tamari packet. A tofu roll pairs Vermont bean curd with sweet potato and scallion, while a salmon roll combines wild fish with sprouts, local cream cheese and cucumber.
Also worth noting: All the fish is fully cooked. "Food safety is one concern," Johnson said, but it's also a matter of broadening the product's appeal: "If you look at market feedback, the No. 1 reason people say they don't like sushi is because it's raw fish."
If all goes well, Johnson and Lutz hope to open a brick-and-mortar takeout spot. For now, you can find Vermont Sushi Factory rolls at Montpelier's Hunger Mountain Co-op and Uncommon Market & Deli, at Commodities Natural Market in Stowe and Winooski, at Williston's Natural Provisions Market, and in a handful of smaller shops.