By Rachel Hergett EBS COLUMNIST
On a wall near the entrance of Dave’s Sushi in Bozeman, a framed article proclaims the restaurant has “a decade of embracing community” under its belt.
“I never in my wildest dreams imagined it would be as successful as it is,” founder Dave Weiss states in the piece.
That article (which I wrote for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle) is now a decade old and, according to co-owner Aaron Parker, is how the staff knew the restaurant was turning 20 on Feb. 20. It is still successful.
Dave’s Sushi is still based out of an old house on North Bozeman Avenue where Weiss started it in 2003, modeling the laid-back atmosphere after restaurants he had visited in Hawaii.
“It’s cool seeing what Dave’s Sushi has become, what we do out of this little house,” said Tony Kaber, who has worked for Parker for the last year.
In the past decade since Parker and co. took over the day-to-day, Dave’s has expanded twice. The first expansion added a seating area and expanded the kitchen and prep areas. The second enclosed the patio to make the space usable in any weather. They also bought a property next door. Initial ideas include creating a dedicated space for to-go orders to create better flow at the entrance and a commissary-type kitchen that would serve Dave’s and the group’s other two restaurants, Jam and Revelry.
“The restaurant has grown, but I think its personality has remained intact,” said Jordan Albertsen, a manager who worked his way up through the ranks over the last seven years.
Unlike Parker, I can’t say Dave’s was the first place I really had sushi. Sushi grade fish wasn’t available in southwest Montana when I was a kid, but the women in my family kept their kitchens stocked with rice and nori—the seaweed used for making sushi rolls. Fillings included cucumbers, pickled daikon, a rehydrated gourd known as kanpyo (my favorite) or an Americanized concoction of cooked spinach, deli ham and egg (not my favorite). I sought out the more fish-centered stuff when I traveled to visit family on the West Coast. I had a favorite sushi restaurant when I lived in London, a hip conveyor belt place called Yo! Sushi.
Today, restaurants serving sushi or related dishes such as poke bowls are everywhere. Big Sky has a couple. Bozeman has about a dozen. Most grocery stores offer some form of ready-made rolls or bowls.
But 20 years ago, Dave’s was an anomaly. Flying fresh fish inland was a novel concept (and our local airport still doesn’t have cold storage for shipments). And the sushi Weiss and his staff served was a revelation. The restaurant expanded my idea of what sushi could be, incorporating new flavors and ingredients on the whims of the ever-expanding line of sushi rollers.
“It’s not traditional,” Parker said. “I feel like every roll has its own expression.”
My current favorite is the Twin Fin, which features tempura shrimp on the inside and raw tombo (albacore tuna) with dollops of cilantro aioli on top. This too has changed over the years, as the menu is updated. Retired rolls still live on a secret menu—accessible if you write a sushi haiku or perform a fish dance for the staff and customers. While the haiku is expected to contain three lines of five, seven and five syllables, the fish dance is open to interpretation.
Dave’s has retained a sort of choose-your-own-adventure attitude. Traditional rolls are on the menu alongside specialty rolls. If the idea of raw fish makes you squeamish, there are still plenty of options, including fried fish and fried chicken. Or sit at the bar and talk to the chefs, who will whip up something new. For years, my grandmother and I were regulars at the bar, where she would watch them concoct my standard order—a chef’s choice (chirashi) bowl. I’ve been served tempura cheese balls, fried shrimp heads, quail eggs, lotus root, gochujang poke and so much more.
When I asked Parker what he would most like people to know about Dave’s 20 years in, he simply said “We’re still here.”
“We’re just getting started,” Albertsen quipped.
Rachel Hergett is a foodie and cook from Montana. She is arts editor emeritus at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and has written for publications such as Food Network Magazine and Montana Quarterly. Rachel is also the host of the Magic Monday Show on KGLT-FM and teaches at Montana State University.