The great sushi heist

Last updated 08:22 23/03/2014
St Pierre’s Sushi director Nick Katsoulis
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

FOOD FRAUD: St Pierre’s Sushi director Nick Katsoulis says thieves are abusing the firm’s loyalty card system.

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There is such a thing as a free lunch for thieves who are swiping thousands of dollars' worth of sushi from a nationwide chain.

Fraudsters have claimed thousands of rolls of ‘free' sushi via St Pierre's loyalty card scheme - which is now being jeopardised by the lost business.

The sushi chain offers customers a free $8.50 pack of sushi for every 10 packs they buy. But thieves with a penchant for smoked salmon and teriyaki chicken have been stealing the rubber stamps and marking their own cards.

The chain has been hit around 10 times in the last three to four years, says director Nick Katsoulis.

"You're probably talking thousands of dollars' worth of product that's been stolen." So far, the problem is confined to Auckland, with the most recent incident in the suburb of Glen Innes being caught on closed circuit television cameras and referred to police.

Katsoulis estimates genuine customers claim at least 2000 packs of free sushi a week, and he says while the ink-stamp and cardboard card promotion is "old-fashioned", it's also part of the company's culture.

"St Pierre's is 30 years old this year, and the stamp promotion must have been going 15 years. We are seriously considering withdrawing it. But laws are always created for the minority, rules are always created because one idiot did something and ruined it for everybody."

The now nationwide chain of 42 stores, employing around 450 staff, started life as a seafood deli in Wellington. Katsoulis says sushi was sold for the first year, but it wasn't until a relaunch in the 1990s the product found favour with Kiwis. "The word sushi was synonymous with raw fish and it was a real put-off. We thought of doing non-traditional flavours, and we moved away from raw fish, and did smoked salmon. Then we thought radically - and all our Japanese staff said ‘don't be stupid' - but we did a smoked chicken sushi."

Teriyaki chicken and fresh salmon sushi are now the company's biggest sellers. Katsoulis says sushi theft might sound like a petty crime, but the problem was costly and had caused awkwardness for staff who have had to query genuine customers carrying cards inked by the subsequently stolen stamps.

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