Beyond Sushi: Here's What Happened After Shark Tank

After completing his military service in Israel, Guy Vaknin moved to New York in 2005 to study at the Institute of Culinary Education. He spent the next four years as the executive chef at Esprit Events Catering. In 2012, long before representing the first vegan restaurant to ever appear on "Shark Tank," he was on another reality TV show, competing in Season 10 of Gordon Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen." In 2012, Guy and his wife, Tali Vaknin, opened the first location of Beyond Sushi, a plant-based eatery with a unique take on vegan sushi. Within 10 months, the couple opened another location, and then another ... eventually seeding New York with six popular kosher and vegan sushi joints.

It all began when Vaknin worked as a caterer, testing out a nutritious vegetarian roll that would satisfy the company's kosher clientele. He ended up creating a delicious vegan vegetarian sushi featuring black rice, which debuted at the 2011 NYC Vegetarian Food Festival to overwhelmingly positive feedback. That was when the husband and wife team realized the world was ready for vegan sushi.

Success in New York set the stage for expansion, with multiple restaurants planned for Los Angeles. The Vaknins hoped a "Shark Tank" investment would help make the move possible. While Guy wasn't initially interested in going on the show, Tali pushed to make it happen, convincing him that aside from the money, getting the company name out there on national television was the momentum they needed to make it a national brand.

What happened to Beyond Sushi on Shark Tank?

In October 2018, Guy Vaknin went on "Shark Tank" in Season 10, Episode 3, asking for $1.5 million for 25% of his future West Coast restaurants, and 5% of his East Coast locations. He served samples of the menu's bestsellers, which the Sharks enjoyed. At filming, there were six Beyond Sushi locations, all supplied through one commissary kitchen (sometimes called a virtual restaurant or ghost kitchen). The first few were fast casual and the newest venture was a large, full-service restaurant.

In the last year, the company made $4 million in sales, but profits were negative due to two new restaurants opening expenses, and the move to using a commissary. The previous year brought in $2.4 million, netting $600,000. The current year's projection was $5.6 million. In 2015, Vaknin partnered with Sandy Beall, founder of Ruby Tuesday, who owned 25% of the New York business. Shark Daymond John expressed that he wasn't comfortable with the business model. Kevin O'Leary thought the valuation was too high. Mark Cuban didn't think the concept was unique or ready to expand. All three were out.

Matt Higgins didn't like the low end of the deal being for New York while the greater equity was for something that didn't exist. After discussing with Lori Greiner, Higgins announced they were partnering to invest for 30% of the West Coast and 15% of New York. Vaknin tried further negotiating, but the offer remained firm, and he eventually accepted it.

Beyond Sushi after Shark Tank

Even though the company knew to prepare for the incoming "Shark Tank" effect, the initial surge in business right after the show aired was still surprising. The restaurants' sales jumped 40% within the first week of the episode airing, delivery increased by 70%, and online orders went through the roof. Even though Greiner and Higgins were initially very involved and helpful, the Vaknins ultimately decided to turn down their investment. As Guy Vaknin told the Diced blog in 2020, "We did our due diligence and negotiation, and at the end of everything, I saw that it was going in a direction that I didn't necessarily want it to go in."

Like many restaurants at the time, the Covid pandemic hit Beyond Sushi hard. While the restaurants remained open for takeout, delivery, and outdoor dining, mandatory indoor dining closure took its toll. Revenue for 2020 was down to 15% of what it was before the pandemic. Unfortunately, many staff members had to be laid off, and a number of the storefronts didn't recover and closed permanently. Barely surviving the unprecedented financial blows, Beyond Sushi managed to hang on thanks to the support of its loyal customers stepping up for delivery and to-go orders. The company also gave back to its community by donating close to 10,000 meals for hospital staff and frontline workers, and to shelters through its partnership with the nonprofit charity Support+Feed. Meanwhile, plans for the West Coast expansion were put on hold.

Is Beyond Sushi still in business?

Despite turning down the "Shark Tank" investment and the losses incurred during the pandemic, Beyond Sushi is not only still in business, but it has also rebounded and continues to thrive. Today there are three restaurants that remain open in Manhattan, with locations on 56th Street, 3rd Avenue in the Upper East Side, and the brands' flagship restaurant located on 37th Street. 

The company has also introduced its food service division under the banner of City Roots Catering, serving plant-based options for weddings, corporate meetings, and special events. Further elevating and refining kosher vegan cuisine in NYC, Guy Vaknin also spearheads three other restaurants — Willow, a comfort food bistro in Chelsea — Coletta, an Italian restaurant and wine bar in Gramercy — and Anixi, a Mediterranean brasserie also located in Chelsea. In March of 2023, Beyond Sushi was voted Best Asian Restaurant in the VegNews Veggie Awards.

Beyond Sushi's menu continuously evolves, with new items and seasonal dishes added regularly. The company's classic Asian-inspired offerings include soups, dumplings, bowls, sushi, and maki rolls, as well as desserts. In 2022, a new menu launched with specialties like chick'n yakitori skewers, "tuna" poke bowls, and matcha affogato. In September 2023, many more new and tantalizing items were added, including chick'n banh mi, chick'n broccoli, chili noodles, shoyu ramen, Philadelphia rolls, and pandan cake. The bar menu offers beer, wine, cocktails, and traditional Japanese sake, best enjoyed at half price on the weekends during wallet-friendly Happy Hour.

What's Next for Beyond Sushi?

While future plans for the company remain undisclosed, Guy and Tali Vaknins' restaurant and catering enterprises show no signs of slowing down. The focus appears to be on growing the catering business and expanding the menu options at Beyond Sushi as well as the other three City Roots group restaurants. As of publication, the company is actively hiring, which is usually a good indicator that business is brisk. In October 2023, Vaknin was once again nominated by VegNews for Best Vegan Chef, and Beyond Sushi was nominated for Best Vegan Restaurant, along with numerous other nods for his other restaurants as well.

In September 2023, Beyond Sushi participated in Vegandale, a giant gathering of over 250 vegan vendors from all over the world. For the event, he partnered with Chunk Foods, an Israeli faux-meat company — which is somewhat surprising considering he was outspoken in the early days about not using fake meat products on his menus, even speaking against it when he appeared on "Shark Tank"— although given how delicious the high-protein cultured soy and wheat product appears to be, it seems like a great exception to the rule. Vaknin teased on social media that Chunk Foods might soon find its way into a new Beyond Sushi dish, and it's already available at Coletta, Willow, and Anixi. The chef has also been experimenting with crafting his own vegan cheeses, which we can assume feature in such dishes as his vegan Philadelphia maki roll.