Hachi Sushi Pub

Joseph Montalbano  |   Friday Mar. 1st, 2024

The experience of walking through the doors at Hachi is truly unique. From the comfortable, dark ambiance to the neon signs, Hachi Sushi Pub at The Market is a great place to spend an evening enjoying delicious food and a fun atmosphere. After speaking with Blane Woodfin, Jr, regional president of the Blue-Collar Restaurant Group (which owns Hachi, Sidewinders and Tanglewood), I clearly understood the experiential nature of Hachi to be as special as anything on the menu.

Joseph Montalbano: How was Hachi conceptualized?
Blane Woodfin, Jr: We have a restaurant in Jackson Hole, Wyoming that serves great sushi and has been successful with that over the years, so we kind of know sushi already. We saw an opportunity to supplement our other developments with this sushi/Japanese niche; we knew we wanted it to be a fun, family-friendly, casual restaurant. There are a lot of sushi restaurants, and they’re great, but it feels like you’re walking into a dojo; they’re a bit higher end. I love those places, love the experience but, for us, the way we operate restaurants, and [bearing in mind] our key demographic, we wanted it to be more casual, more approachable—basically, feel more like a Japanese dive bar.

 JM: When someone walks through the doors at Hachi, what do you want their experience to be?
BWJ: In all our restaurants, we try to have some sort of wow factor. At Sidewinders, it’s walking in and seeing the fireplace, the seventy-six beers on draft, and so on. At Hachi, we wanted to create the feeling of being transported to a completely different environment, particularly because here in The Market lobby, the common area is so generic. It’s beautiful, but it is a lot of white walls and plain surfaces, so when you walk through the threshold at Hachi, we want you to feel like you’re in a whole new space, inspired by a downtown or urban environment. It’s also why we have the Arcade Lounge upstairs; we filled that with retro arcade games that connect with the Japanese design, influence, and inspiration for the place.

JM: What menu items do regulars keep coming back for?
BWJ: I’d say the Elk Hunter is one of our most popular cocktails. It’s basically a fresh-squeezed grapefruit margarita; it’s kind of our company cocktail… we actually have it at all our restaurants, but it’s been particularly successful at Hachi. We also have a great spicy margarita that’s really popular. Then, the Japanese beer stuff, like New Hokkaido, which pairs really well with our menu items.

[As far as food items go] I think our specialty rolls, like our Godzilla and King Kong rolls, which are a play on vintage Japanese movies, King Kong vs. Godzilla kind of stuff, those two rolls are probably our best-selling sushi rolls. It’s been a real balance between sushi and non-sushi stuff. Our karaage, pork dumplings, ramen, and other noodle dishes are becoming really popular, as well as chicken teriyaki. They’re familiar, Japanese-inspired dishes; that’s kind of where our sweet spot is. It’s not really the gourmet or traditional stuff you might find at other places—we’re embracing a somewhat Americanized style of Japanese food.

JM: What is your personal favorite menu item?
BWJ: My favorite roll is probably the “Salt and Peppah.” I love that one. It’s got that tempura crunch on the inside, with really great flavors. If I had to choose between any type of sushi, I’m a big nigiri guy, so I love the simplicity of that, and being able to really taste the quality of the fish, like our salmon. Pretty much every time I go to Hachi, I order salmon or sake nigiri, and I just love it because I know the salmon is true sashimi grade, super high quality, especially for being in the middle of Montana.

JM: I have to imagine it’s hard to get quality fish around here.
BWJ: You know, it’s more accessible than you’d think. I mean, it’s expensive, and we really have to stay on top of inventory management. It’s not as readily available as great hamburger or something like that, but you can definitely get it here, and the quality is as good as you’re going to find anywhere else.

JM:  How would you describe the vibes at Hachi?
BWJ: Our inspiration for Hachi’s interior was trying to transport you to feeling like you’re in a genuine pub or Izakaya-type restaurant in Tokyo, or in a big Japanese, urban environment. We have cool neon lights; we’ve used a ton of red lighting in the restaurant to have this sort of nighttime, urban-inspired vibe.

 JM: What is the inspiration behind all the Clint Eastwood posters?
BWJ: We love the connection between Western and Japanese… the fact that we’re here in Montana with the western American influence, while also the fact that it’s a Japanese restaurant. The movie posters we have are the Japanese versions of the Clint Eastwood movies, with the Japanese text used when they premiered those movies in Japan.

JM: You can feel the blending of Western and Eastern in just the design of the restaurant.
BWJ: Exactly. We don’t intend to be one-hundred percent authentic, pure Japanese-style sushi; we’re in Montana. We have great fish—it’s all the top quality you can get your hands on, and our team has great technique, as well. The team is certainly capable of it [authenticity], though. We have guests who come in and do an omakase, which allows our sushi chefs to do something really creative and unique, and showcase their talents. I would say the majority of customers are looking for things like the King Kong or Godzilla roll though, with crazy toppings—maybe not the traditional style sushi you see in other places.

JM: What makes Hachi unique to the local food scene?

 BWJ: Sushi and Japanese food, in general, is definitely a niche; it’s not something that people are necessarily eating multiple times a week. I think what excites me most is to see families visit Hachi; families with kids enjoying the arcade games, the shuffleboard table… the fact that we have a great kids’ menu here in addition to all the other stuff we do. I have a lot of friends who have known me and my association with Sidewinders and brought their families there, but now the kids are saying they only want to go to Hachi. I think that’s so cool, because sushi isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind for parents when taking their kids out to dinner. I’m really proud we’ve put together a concept that appeals to the whole family. Also, we’re pretty focused on prioritizing serving people who live here in West Bozeman.

JM: Is there anything coming up that you want readers to know about?
BWJ: I would probably focus on what we call the Arcade Menu, which is essentially our Happy Hour menu; that’s where we’ve found a lot of traction. People love being able to come here, sit upstairs, and have really reasonably priced menu items there. We utilize that menu to R&D new items; maybe things we ran as a special that did really well, we’ll put on the Arcade Menu and continue to collect feedback on. The Arcade Menu is intended to be rotated through more frequently than our standard dinner menu, so for people always looking for something new, coming in and experiencing our Arcade Menu is a great way to do that.

JM: Okay, and the Arcade Menu is available from 4-6?
BWJ: Yes, four to six p.m., or anytime upstairs. We use that to encourage people to sit up in our arcade area and experience that because I think it’s a lot of fun. You can play the retro arcade games, sip a Japanese beer or cocktail, and have access to our most reasonably priced dishes.

That special something that keeps people coming back to Hachi is the unique combination of experiencing an urban Japanese setting within a family-friendly environment with accessible prices, to make sure everyone has a chance to enjoy Hachi. This sushi-pub has added all of these things to the Asian and Japanese food scene in Bozeman.   

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