Originally imagined as a broader concept offering lunch, dinner, and omakase at the counter, the pandemic was a “blessing in disguise” for Sushi-Wa, which quickly made a name for itself among Charleston sushi aficionados after opening in 2018.
Limits on seating, enforced because of COVID-related restrictions, made intimate, nigiri-focused experiences and chef’s choice takeout trays the sushi restaurant’s priority. Owners Kazuyuki Murakami and Chris Schoedler say it’s what they always wanted to do with the concept, and customers clearly agree with the decision. And because Sushi-Wa allows only eight seatings per week of 14 guests, reservations tend to be booked out far in advance.
In our regular series The One Who Keeps The Book, we talk to the people who handle reservations at your favorite restaurants, to find tips on how to get in and what to expect, straight from those who know what it takes.
This time, Schoedler tells us how to get a seat at Sushi-Wa, and other details you need to know to get the most out of your hard-won omakase tasting adventure.
Resy: How many seats are there at Sushi-Wa?
Schoedler: We have a total of 14 seats in the restaurant. Right now we’re doing one seating on both Wednesdays and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. And then on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday we have a 5:15 p.m. seating and an 8 p.m. seating. The whole omakase is usually about a two-and-a-half-hour experience.
When do reservations drop on Resy?
Reservations go online 28 days out at 12 p.m.
How quickly do those usually get booked out?
It really depends, at times it can be booked 28 days out, but right now it’s usually about 20 days out.
What strategy would you recommend to diners looking to snag a table?
The first would be trying to book for the time/date you want, 20-28 days out. Outside of that, we tend to get week-of cancellations. So I always tell people to use the Notify feature on Resy. I know lots of restaurants say it, but for us, it ends up working out often. I have some regular guests I end up seeing once or twice a month who only use the Resy Notify feature and then it ends up working for them. They’ll put themselves down for a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and something between those three days opens up on Notify and they’re able to squeeze in that way.
How long is the Resy Notify list usually?
It’s not too crazy, right now as we speak I have 10 parties of two on the list for tonight. But sometimes people don’t realize how small a restaurant we are until they first come in and say, “Oh, now I get it.”
It’s surprising that many people are watching like hawks waiting for it to happen …
Are there any other ways to snag a table?
Make sure you follow us on Instagram because we do post day-of cancellations there. If I have already called everyone on my Notify list and I can’t get anyone to pick the reservation up, I’ll go ahead and post on Instagram Stories. And that’s been a blessing for us.
At first, I didn’t want to flood everyone’s feed with that but we have people who have post notifications turned on for Sushi-Wa and only book that way instead of 20 days out. But they go fast — I think five to 10 minutes is the record.
There are definitely days that the available seats sit there for a couple of hours, but it’s surprising that many people are watching like hawks waiting for it to happen, I love it.
It’s Saturday night at 8 p.m. Can you set the scene?
Every night is a little different simply based on the crowd. They essentially set the vibe for the evening.
Last night, for example, we had a bunch of industry folks in, a couple of repeat guests, and a few first-timers. It’s a fun scene with everybody interacting with each other. And we get to interact with the guests as well — I’d say I’m the more talkative of the two between myself and Kazu.
We do have some guests who share their travel experiences with Kazu that have either lived in or spent time in Japan since he lived there until 1987. We’re honestly just two guys making sushi in our “living room.” So we just want people to come in and hang out with us and enjoy some sushi.
Let’s say I finally get a seat there. What can I expect from the menu?
The omakase experience consists of 14 nigiri pieces and a hand roll per person. For the nigiri, we try to start lighter and progress heavier. I’d say about half of the pieces stay somewhat consistent, and the rest are usually something new. A lot of it really depends on availability at the fish markets for us, as we get most of our fish directly from Japan.
One nigiri we always try to start off with is a sea bream, also known as madai, from Kyushu, Japan. It may seem like a boring white fish, but the great fat content of the fish along with just a little lime zest makes it a really fun piece for us to prepare to start the omakase experience.
We’re not trying to be exclusive by any means. We’re just two guys doing it all — from making all the sushi and taking reservations to waiting tables, and there’s only so much that we can handle with us being so hands-on.