Something fishy about this new art gallery

TESS MCCLURE
Last updated 05:00 22/12/2013
Koi Sushi Bar and Gallery
Daniel Tobin

FRESH APPROACH: Keiko Shimomura and Aaron Tan are passionate about Japanese food and about art.

Koi Sushi Bar and Gallery
Daniel Tobin
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Aaron Tan has always wanted to start an art gallery.

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Sushi, artwork and coffee aren't usually things you see being sold in the same room.

But Keiko Shimomura and Aaron Tan are passionate about all three, and have brought them together at the newly opened Koi Sushi Bar and Gallery.

Open for just a month now, the Marshlands Road business is doing a steady trade, sending around 500 pieces of sushi out the door every day.

Unusually, the space is an art gallery as well as a restaurant, with a dedicated curator to exhibit local and national emerging artists.

Tan, himself a photographer, says he "always wanted to start a gallery," but was also passionate about hospitality.

After finishing a photography degree, he and sushi chef Shimomura decided to bring their two passions together.

This is the first business they have both owned, and while it's unusual, the pair say the idea has taken off, and business is growing fast.

Both are working full time, and have taken on five staff for the sushi bar, as well as working with the curator.

Business is steady, and "getting better and better," with a strong base of local regulars and tradesmen with a taste for the ever-popular crispy chicken.

Before starting their own business in Christchurch, both had spent years in the hospitality sector - Aaron in London and Keiko in Japan and Wellington.

The pair moved down in April after hearing from family that there were good opportunities to open a cafe in the rebuilding city.

It was Tan who was determined to incorporate a creative side into the new business.

"I wanted to do something in the art world, because I'm a photographer. So we tried to bring those skills together to bring something new and different to Christchurch," he said.

And he's pleased with the final result.

"It's unusual, but it works."

Tan works with the curator to bring artists to the gallery. Originally, he had hoped to curate the exhibitions himself, but has been kept busy with the growing sushi business.

Koi now has artists booked in to exhibit for the next six months.

Tan said the artwork had proved popular with their customers, with many stopping to look, and around 10 per cent making enquiries to buy.

"People like it. They think it's really interesting. It keeps the place fresh," he said.

While it is not traditionally served with sushi, Tan said the espresso coffee compliments the artwork.

"It's for anyone who comes in and wants to look at the artwork properly. They can have a coffee and take their time," he said.

The rest of their cuisine is traditional sushi, with a twist to cater for New Zealand tastes.

Now that the doors have opened, they said, the pressure is off, with the hardest part of the business getting it renovated and ready to go.

"At the beginning it was difficult, trying to get everything in on time and working with council and tradesmen, trying to get everyone working together to come up with this end result," Tan said.

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"Once it was open, it was like all that stress was relieved."

As well as its unusual combinations, the pair say impeccable service is their key point of difference.

Shimomura laughs: "It's because we're Japanese! We're always polite."

- The Press

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