V. RICHARD'S FINDS NAGANO OLYMPICS POWER SUSHI DEBUT

BROOKFIELD, Wis. -- V. Richard's here is testing the waters with a sushi program it launched in the last week of February, and so far the results are looking good, the company said.The timing could not have been better, V. Richards executives said. The company's introduction of the sushi rode a wave of sushi awareness wrought by the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.Coincidentally, a local TV station

BROOKFIELD, Wis. -- V. Richard's here is testing the waters with a sushi program it launched in the last week of February, and so far the results are looking good, the company said.

The timing could not have been better, V. Richards executives said. The company's introduction of the sushi rode a wave of sushi awareness wrought by the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

Coincidentally, a local TV station broadcast a feature on sushi, tying it in with the Olympic Games. Martha Stewart, TV's ubiquitous hostess, also devoted a program to sushi the week of V. Richard's launch. And CBS was interspersing its Olympics coverage with feature stories, many of which took a look at Japanese food.

"We had planned it to follow the Olympics, but all the other attention to sushi eating made it a particularly nice kickoff for us," said Elizabeth Little, president and co-owner of the single-unit, upscale V. Richard's.

The program is being run in conjunction with a local Japanese restaurant, Ichiban. It's a simple deal, Little said. "They gave us a wholesale price they'd charge for each lunch, and we marked them up accordingly."

The partnership has started out with a Fridays-only sushi lunch, featuring a co-owner of the restaurant as sushi chef. On Fridays, he makes sushi to order for take-out only during lunch-time hours. Friday was chosen as the optimum day of the week for sushi lunches, she said.

"People tend to buy more nontraditional items for the weekend, starting on Friday. We've noticed before that they buy more appetizer-type things like shrimp in puff pastry and dips," she said. Also, offering sushi just once a week gives it more excitement, like a special of the week, she said.

"It's something to look forward to. And when the weather gets warmer, people look for something exciting to do at lunch time on Friday. They're winding down, getting ready for the weekend," she said.

Added to the support of all the hype generated from outside was the retailer's own aggressive promotion. "We put it on our web site, and did radio advertising on three local radio stations," Little said. The spot ads were played throughout the day, some of them during drive time.

"We hit a broad market with radio. We also had fliers that we gave out in-store. In the grocery aisle, where we have ethnic items, we had little shelf tags that said, 'Do you love sushi? Ask about our sushi lunch, and our sushi classes and catering.' "

One of the radio ads, touting the retailer's sushi-making class with the line, "East meets West at V. Richard's. Come to V. Richard's and learn how to make sushi."

Little told SN that "The 'East meets West' had a double meaning. Ichiban Restaurant is on the East side of Milwaukee and we're a suburb West of the city."

Interviewed just after the debut, Little said the first Friday sushi lunch was a success. "It went so well that David Amos, co-owner of Ichiban, stayed until evening, making sushi to order. It doesn't sound like a lot, but we sold more than 30 lunches and they ranged from $4.95 to $10.95. We were pleased."

Little said she expected sales to pick up the second Friday. "Now people know it's there and that the sushi is made right there." The sushi station is set up right at the front of the store, near the seafood department's lobster tanks.

"He has a portable refrigerated case, and cuts and rolls everything to order. He's using six different varieties of sushi-grade fish and then makes several types of vegetable maki," Little said.

Customer reaction has been very positive, she reported.