In the 1980’s no one was selling Sushi in Eugene, Oregon. For one family, though, fresh sushi rolls became a path to freedom and independence.
A mother and daughter who wanted nothing more than financial freedom started Tsunami Sushi, the company that would transform over the next 40 years into Real Live Food Oregon.
“We never wanted to grow the business,” Araina Gehr said, “We just needed to pay bills and go backpacking.”
Araina’s mother, Elva Nevar, wanted to reclaim her time after beating cancer. So she got together with four like-minded friends to start a new business endeavor.
Although none of them had any meaningful experience with sushi, they dreamed up the Tsunami Sushi brand. After getting some lessons from a japanese sushi chef, they built a cart from scratch and got ready to join Eugene’s Saturday market.
“You had 5 white women who had never rolled sushi before and they’re like yeah we’re gonna sell sushi,” Araina said. “What a weird thing to sell in eugene in the 80s”
Unfortunately, most of the women had a falling-out on their first Saturday, so it fell to Araina and her mom to see the business through.
For the first 3 years, the mother-daughter team made and delivered all of the sushi themselves. Araina rode a refrigerated bike and her mom used a truck.
Demoing their products and meeting customers in-person were key to their success.
“It was fun teaching people about sushi, wasabi, and all that,” Araina said. “We were showing people Eugene-style sushi.”
The only time they would enlist outside help was during their backpacking and camping trips. While she and her mother were on the road they would hire a helper or two to make sure orders were completed.
“I’ll never get those times back,” Araina said. “We just had 10 years of incredible adventures.”
Growing the business to make a profit was never a priority. Even when they would sell at events like Oregon Country Fair, they used the business as a tool for creating joy and excitement.
While other vendors would try to make a profit, Tsunami’s small team stopped to enjoy the fair and paint people’s faces once they had broken even.
Elva ran the business until she died 10 years later. Araina was at home making sushi when she passed.
“The business growth was low, but I had tremendous shared experiences with mom,” Araina said. “After she died my world fell apart.’
Araina would run the business for 5 more years before selling it to its next owner. Tsunami was a source of stability, but after her 2nd child Araina needed to focus on family. At the point when she sold the business, Araina was making sushi while wearing her baby in a backpack.
The next owners, and each one after them, were all people seeking independence. In the 80’s there was a lack of fulfilling jobs in Lane County.
It’s challenging and risky to be your own boss, but the rewards for people who go down that path can be huge.
Over the years, Tsunami Sushi has helped a series of entrepreneurs grasp the responsibilities of being your own boss.
“You have to show up,” Araina said, “You can’t blame it on someone else if it’s not working.”
Araina’s hard work got the sushi rolling so that we could continue to serve you delicious unique food today!