Stephan Harman, entrepreneur and 2008 University of Dayton graduate, had a vision for a new restaurant that was convenient, fun, healthy and just plain delicious when creating the sushi restaurant FUSIAN.
“It came from an idea of a place where we can eat sushi every day,” Harman said.
Harman and his two long-time friends, Ohio State University business majors Josh and Zach Weprin, opened FUSIAN in May 2010 as a way to make sushi accessible to UD students and to provide more variety of food choices on campus.
“I love eating at FUSIAN because it is inexpensive, fresh and the portion size is perfect,” said Jordan Sanfrotello, a senior pre-physical therapy major.
After graduating with a degree in business from UD, Harman did not have specific career plans in mind. Weprin’s father owned his own business in Dayton and mentored the boys.
“He gave us two pieces of advice: never go into the automotive business, and never go into the restaurant business,” Harman said.
However, Weprin’s father was the initial investor in the sushi restaurant. Harman said his investment was in the people. Weprin’s father believed passion was more important than experience, according to Harman.
“Then we talked to over 100 bankers,” Josh Weprin said. “It was about sharing the same vision with the right person.”
After finding willing investors, one of the biggest challenges was choosing a location. Harman said the UD space provides a convenient location for Dayton residents because Far Hills Avenue connects the north and south. He said UD was picky about who takes the space around campus because the businesses are the first thing that parents and potential students see when arriving to campus.
“Being from Dayton, our authenticity really shows,” Josh Weprin said. “As word spreads, people figure out what FUSIAN is about, and they come back. Repeat customers are important.”
FUSIAN has a second location in downtown Cincinnati, and the owners are looking to add a Columbus location in the near future. Besides location, the people behind a company are most important, according to Josh Weprin.
“We are very much hands on,” he said. “It is the culture we are creating in these four walls, and leading by example is really important. We work for them.”
Harman and the Weprins look at the company as a community of people, a team. They want to give their staff an “ownership mentality” so that they feel they have ownership in the growing company. They are even looking into providing health insurance for their employees, according to Harman.
The young entrepreneurs are also trying to leave a small footprint on the planet.
“Everything at the restaurant is turned into dirt or recycled,” Harman said. “Except for the soy sauce packets, we can’t figure out what to do with those.”
Both Harman and Josh Weprin agree that the best sushi roll to make is one for first-timers.
“There are millions of combinations that can link to individuals as they come through the door,” Josh Weprin said. “You only have to ask, do you like rice? And then we win them over for life.”
When they are not socializing with customers at the restaurant, the long-time friends are wakeboarding, snowboarding, skiing or going to concerts.
“Balance is so important,” Harman said. “It is easy to get yourself wrapped up in your work.”
Harman’s advice to young UD entrepreneurs is to find something they are passionate about and work hard to share it with other people.
“Find a product you can believe in,” he said. “Surround yourself with the right people, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”