Rolling sushi for a living was never really something I aspired to, but for most of the years 2012-2014, that’s exactly how I spent a significant portion of my time. I’d moved to Glynn County, Georgia, a picturesque and quiet place, but also in the middle of nowhere with limited job opportunities. One of the advantages of not having many people you can count on in life for me has been the ability to approach situations with a “Eh, screw it, what’s the worst that could happen?” attitude. I needed a job, so I accepted a marketing position with a large seafood company, a subsidiary of Gorton’s Seafood based in Massachusetts, and since I was living in a small town in the South with a limited amount of support in my life, this affiliation to my home state was somewhat reassuring.
The company was preparing to launch a new product, “Sushi Bob,” and as I learned, a company-wide product launch is a big deal and requires a lot of hands on deck. “Sushi Bob,” partially developed by one of our sales people, was a new and innovative idea. They’d partnered with a sushi rice manufacturer and developed sushi “kits,” pre-portioned kits of sushi rice combined with different proteins (our company’s seafood) to create an easy and fun “Roll Your Own Sushi” experience. Since many of our customers were large colleges and universities and other business and industry customers, the idea was to create a fun and interactive sushi rolling station involving a banner, sushi rolling supplies, and someone in a sushi outfit yielding a very sharp knife.
I was told about the product launch and the Sushi Bob concept during my lengthy interview process, which involved meeting with several people, some more than once, a detailed personality profile test, and a complicated math test equivalent to the SATs which I no doubt would have failed without the help of google. (Yes, I’m outing myself). I assumed I’d be helping with sales support, marketing projects, writing press releases, and other marketing/public relations duties. I was correct…but there was a plot twist. “We want you to be the go-to person for all things Sushi Bob related, you’ll have to learn the product inside and out, become the expert in it, be the gatekeeper for all marketing supplies and sales support, oh, and also, fly all over the country and teach people how to roll sushi, PS-We’re going to call you Sushi Doria.” I wasn’t prepared for this, but it’s not the only curve ball life has thrown me, so I did what people all over the place do in the corporate world and adult life in general and replaced the question “Are you fucking kidding me?” with “Sounds great.”
My boss and I were a two person marketing team, we worked in conjunction with a marketing agency, but still, there were only two of us, and a crew of needy sales people all over the country, and now I had the added responsibility of taking my one-woman sushi show on the road. The sales people were a demanding bunch, I got used to it and worked well with them by the end of my sushi stint, but there was an initial “hazing” period I’d say, where they wanted to make sure I was tough enough and could handle some pressure, but unbeknownst to them, my life had already prepared me for that, so it was unnecessary. After a few conversations where I used euphemisms for “I’m efficient and will help you get what you need, but not if you act like an asshole,” things improved. I’d harass them about their non-New England sports teams and drink beers with them on the road and what’s better than that for forming a bond? They were a competitive group and one day I witnessed this conversation between three of them that took place in front of my desk:
Co-worker 1: “After a tough mudder, my wife wouldn’t let me get in the car because my shoes smelled so bad.”
Co-worker 2: “My shoes once smelled up our closet so much I wasn’t allowed to keep ANYTHING in there for awhile”
Co-worker 3: “I was on a plane once after running a race”…..
You get the jist. “I made a car smelly. “I made a WHOLE CLOSET smelly.” “I MADE A PLANE SMELLY.”
I bit my lip to keep me both from laughing out loud and from asking, “Hey, do you guys realize you’re having a competition about WHOSE SHOES FUCKING SMELL THE WORST? Also, you know at the end of the day, we’re selling frozen fish, right?” But they were a spirited bunch, I’ll give them that.
My Sushi Doria adventures took me to Fargo, North Dakota in the middle of December. On that particular trip, after a long delay and several planes, (I don’t remember exactly how many planes it takes to get to Fargo, but it was definitely more than one) Delta lost all my luggage, including my Sushi outfit and supplies. They were, however, kind enough to provide me with an “I’m sorry,” kit, which is a toothbrush and a T-shirt that hit around my navel, helpful in December in North Dakota. Thankfully they dropped my luggage off at about 5am, so I could assume my rolling responsibilities accordingly.
I once stayed at a hotel in Lincoln, Nebraska on a trip to the University of Nebraska where I have no doubt people were making meth in the parking lot and where I had to meet some of our sales brokers at a Cracker Barrel in Lincoln, Nebraska before a demonstration. Because nothing says “I’ve made some good decisions in life” more than meeting strangers at a Cracker Barrel in Nebraska.
But the most memorable Sushi adventure occurred outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was a last minute trip, a Food Service company with several locations in Tennessee was interested in bringing in Sushi Bob and wanted representatives to meet at a central location. I scrambled to make travel arrangements, coordinate with a sales broker, send supplies, etc. Since it was a short, one night trip, I didn’t rent a car and instead took a car service from the airport in Chattanooga. I had the address, which I’d assumed was a regular hotel, but as we approached the location the driver asked, “Um, are you meeting someone you know here, because just to let you know, this is a trucker motel, so if you know who you’re meeting, I’d be happy to wait here until they arrive.” “Sounds great,” I said. Since the trip was last minute, there was some confusion about whether or not the sales broker was going to meet me there, the sales guy for the region assumed she would, and he also had no idea the scheduled location was a trucker motel in the middle of nowhere. I gingerly stepped into a trucker motel, with some burley looking men in the lobby, full of surveillance cameras and met my group, five men I didn’t know. It’s possible most people would have run for the hills at that moment, but because I’m me I figured, “Eh, screw it, what’s the worst that could happen?”
Later that evening while I was at my hotel, Brad, the sales person from the region, called to check in on me. “How’d it go?” he asked. “Oh, pretty good- by the way- I was by myself, the broker wasn’t there, and the meeting was at a sketchy trucker motel in the middle of nowhere. There was a sign on the bathroom door that said something similar to “Enter at Your Own Risk,” but other than that, okay.” As someone who’s functioned in a lot of chaos, I typically handle most crazy and chaotic circumstances calmly, and he seemed surprised I wasn’t more worked up. He didn’t say “Sounds great,” but instead, “Are you fucking kidding me?” He has three daughters, is very protective, hadn’t realized I wouldn’t be accompanied by our sales broker OR that I would be at a trucker motel. He immediately hung up to go yell at someone and I went and bought myself a fancy dinner and a cocktail. Because I was safe and didn’t get murdered, the trucker motel experience became an ongoing joke. “Hey Doria, can we send you to this demo?” “Sounds great, it is at a trucker motel? Also, we have customers in Hawaii, Southern California, and all over the country, do you guys have anywhere not terrible where I can conduct this sushi business? And sometimes, they did. I spent time in Bradenton, Florida, Nashville, went to tradeshows and meetings in Colorado, Minneapolis, Toronto, and Baltimore, and racked up frequent flyer miles and some free trips back to Boston. Over a two and a half year period, I wrote every single company press release, helped manage major projects, worked closely with senior managers, sales people, learned about research and development, and gained the respect and trust of many. I did it on my own, in a place that wasn’t my home, with very little support from anyone. The company is somewhat small, in the South, and close-knit. My co-workers essentially became family, I spent a particularly difficult Thanksgiving with the actual “Sushi Bob,” who has one of the nicest families I’ve ever met, and I’m still in touch with several of them on a regular basis. I retired my sushi jacket, but Sushi Doria taught me the lesson I needed to know, that I’d always been “Ready to Roll,” I just needed to be believe it.
Sushi Doria is also available for parties! But only ones that involve just eating sushi.