It was a big question for owners: Could they see the same success that they've had in Bay Shore on Main Street in Smithtown? But several months owner Barry Huang and general manager Cristian Aguilar both agree that the move was a hit.
“A lot of the customers that live in Smithtown that go to Bay Shore before we opened are now coming here,” Huang said. “The name itself brought us a lot of business.”
While new to the area, Huang has created a buzz for the restaurant with an intentional lack of advertising, relying almost entirely on word-of-mouth recommendations from customers.
“When you do advertising you could write a whole page about yourself about how good your food is, but bottom line do people really trust who you are unless they actually come here and try the food themselves or a friend or family member tell you?” Huang said.
It's a move that's helped pack the house.
What Huang refers to as a complete dining experience is what he said separates Aji 53 from not only other Japanese eateries but all fine-dining establishments.
“We don’t want you to just come here, sit down, eat and then say ‘thank you for coming,’” he said. “We want to know who they are, where they are from, the whole family, their history, what you like and what you don’t like. It’s a relationship, that’s how we treat our customers."
Another goal for the New Year, according to Aguilar, is to establish a social media presence for the restaurant to attract customers from surrounding towns.
“We want to touch upon social media a little stronger and just spread the word more. We want to not just reach Smithtown, we want to reach Nesconset, St. James, Kings Park, Hauppauge – we want to get all the peripheral towns as well as Smithtown,” he said.
While achieving early success, Huang said the restaurant has a lot more to achieve before he is satisfied.
“It is a tough area … [there is] a lot of competition,” he said. “We’re not the first Japanese restaurant to come in to Smithtown … it is a good obstacle to try to win those people over to come to us, but I’m up for that.”
Aji 53 is by no means the only sushi place in Smithtown. It faces competition from , located almost directly across the street as well as the more modern just a ways down Jericho Turnpike.
And if branching out to attract Haupauge diners is part of the plan, that means goign up against Kotobuki, which for years has been the area's highest-ranked sushi restaurant, according to Zagats dining guides. However, the Bay Shore aji 53 recently topped Kotobuki in the rankings.
Although customers have revered Aji 53, Huang said the early success hasn’t come without criticism.
“There are good reviews and there are certain customers that say the price is a little too expensive … there’s so many different people with different opinions on pricing that I can’t please everybody,” he said.
The success achieved in less than a year has strengthened Huang’s confidence in the restaurant.
“I believe in my staff and my food and my service and we will be a very popular Japanese restaurant in Smithtown,” he said.