Why Temaki Tornado? “It rolls off the tongue” said co-owner, Thang Nguyen. The seasoned sushi chef also maintains the belief that temaki – Japanese hand rolls – resemble little tornados.
When Nguyen and his business partner, Jeffrey Takahashi, opened Temaki Tornado in front of Upslope Brewing Company’s Boulder taproom on September 20 – the response from local patrons caused the perfect storm. Between the hours of 12 p.m. and 8 p.m., Nguyen and Takahashi gave away over 400 hand rolls. The anticipation surrounding this fresh concept was palpable throughout Flatiron Park as over 150 people lined up to get their hands on Temaki Tornado’s cone-shaped creations. Nguyen’s signature tuna poke ($5.75) marinated in a zesty spicy chili mix, served with fried shallots and cucumber; yellowtail with jalapeño ponzu, scallions and sprouts ($5.25); and a vegetarian “tornado” roll ($5) made with tamago, avocado, cucumber, sprouts, kanpyo and yamagobo, were among the popular offerings on opening day. While these combinations may be fairly recognizable in the realm of modern sushi, Nguyen emphasizes the company’s mission to provide a superior product by focusing on quality over quantity.
With 14 years of experience as a sushi chef under his belt, Nguyen possesses a keen eye for detail and a nose for seeking exceptional ingredients. What began as a hobby quickly evolved into a passion and profession during Nguyen’s senior year of high school when a friend asked him to fill in for a sushi chef who had walked out during a shift at Zen Asian Bistro in Broomfield. Since then, Nguyen has made a name for himself at some of the most respected Japanese restaurants in Denver and Boulder – Nobu’s Matsuhisa, Bamboo Sushi, Blue Sushi Sake Grill, Hapa, Japango, Sushi Tora, Tasuki, Sushi Zanmai and Izakaya Amu – to name a few. Though Nguyen had envisioned starting his own concept for several years, it wasn’t until he was quarantined with two other chefs during the COVID-19 pandemic that the idea of launching a food truck came to fruition.
Nguyen, Takahashi and fellow chef, Doug Harano, met through working at Sushi Zanmai in Boulder and were living under the same roof when the stay-at-home order was put in place this past March. Finding themselves without work, the talented trio decided to spend their days doing what they do best – cooking, eating and drinking. After a succession of days congregating over homemade Korean barbecue, steaming hot pots and elevated chirashi bowls (alongside their quarantine-supply of Jameson and White Claws) – Nguyen and Takahashi were inspired to team up and create their own concept, playing to their strengths in Japanese cuisine.
“I didn’t want to work in fine dining again. We are pirates – we want to offer high-quality food and we want to have fun doing it,” said Nguyen. Meanwhile, Takahashi was eager to experiment with flavors and have influence over a menu. With a common mission and dedication to the project, the pair quickly shifted gears from submerging themselves in a perennial dinner party to working out the details of a brand new business venture. Nguyen and Takahashi recognized the growing popularity of temaki on the west coast and immediately saw an opportunity to offer a mobile hand roll concept in the Rocky Mountain market.
First, bringing Harano onboard as a chef was a no-brainer given his 13 years of experience making sushi. Next, the aspiring business owners came across a food truck which formerly housed the plant-based Boulder concept, Rollin Greens. Nguyen and Takahashi were pleased to assume ownership of this particular truck – the Rollin Greens owners happened to be their friends and former customers at Sushi Zanmai. From here, the savvy chefs hit the ground running (or rolling, for that matter) and utilized their shared resources to get the truck ready for service. After a few (literal) speed bumps and countless nights without rest – the team announced their soft opening. On September 20, the food truck was a blank canvas with the words “Temaki Tornado,” in simple block-lettering which Nguyen had applied himself the night before. The truck now boasts a vibrant logo by Boulder tattoo artist, Reed Smith, with their mascot “Tako Bob,” a bright red-orange octopus holding – you guessed it – a hand roll.
Each of the classic hand rolls on the menu will have the option of upgrading to seasoned “chirashi rice” with pickled, finely chopped Japanese vegetables for ($1). Additionally, the self-proclaimed “sushi pirates” of Temaki Tornado will offer a secret menu and rotating, over-the-top specials using premium ingredients. A whole king crab leg drizzled with garlic compound butter or fatty bluefin tuna with picked daikon, negi and umami shoyu are among the elevated offerings to be discovered as this ship sets sail along the Front Range. Temaki Tornado will also be whipping up sweet, frothy, dairy-free Dalgona coffee and an ube Dalgona beverage made with purple yam. For these enthusiastic entrepreneurs, Temaki Tornado is only the beginning. The team is already discussing more fun, Asian-inspired concepts for a future food truck fleet. “At the end of the day, we are just making food we want to eat,” said Nguyen.
All photography by Scott Morrison