LEBANON, Ohio — In the mash-up tradition of the croissant-donut hybrid cronut, Japanese and Mexican cuisines have found each other in a fascinating creation: the sushi burrito.
This mash-up is growing in popularity in New York and San Francisco and is catching on fast in other cities, like Chicago. Now, you can taste this trendy creation locally in Lebanon, Ohio.
Tucked away in scenic downtown Lebanon, Roll On In is making its mark selling sushi burritos. They feature flavors and ingredients you would normally find in both food items, all rolled up in a burrito-like construct, using nori seaweed layered with sushi rice.
If the idea doesn’t immediately sound appealing, you’re not alone.
“I thought he was out of his mind,” said John Kallenberger, referring to the moment when his business partner, Michael McCarthy, first pitched the idea. Kallenberger is the company CEO, leading the business segment, while McCarthy spearheads the culinary development and operation.
But once Kallenberger tried McCarthy’s sushi burrito, he was immediately sold.
Idea Born on West Coast
McCarthy got the idea while visiting family on the West Coast. He noticed sushi burrito joints popping up in the area — and they were packed. When he returned to Cincinnati, he immediately shared the concept with Kallenberger.
That was 10 months ago. Today, Roll On In is a fast-casual eatery that lets customers customize their meals in a step-by-step approach. First, diners choose the amount of protein: single, double, triple or none – as in vegetarian. Then they choose their preferred form: burrito, bowl or salad. If diners opt for a burrito, they can swap out the nori seaweed with a soy-based paper-thin wrap for $1 more.
A good portion of the protein is cooked, with choices varying from tempura- and panko-fried shrimp, chicken and salmon, to teriyaki chicken and crab salad. There are also a few raw choices: fresh or spicy salmon, and fresh or dynamite tuna.
Non-protein fillings come next with more than 10 choices available, ranging from Latin elements like corn salsa and jalapeno to Asian-themed choices like wonton strips and Asian slaw.
To finish, there are roughly a half-dozen condiments from which to choose, including yum yum sauce, sriracha and teriyaki. For less than a dollar, you can get the popular wasavo, a wasabi-spiked guacamole.
Depending on the protein, a meal ranges from $8.49 to $11.49, plus any other premium fillings and condiments.
For now, Roll On In serves only non-alcoholic beverages, but a beer license is in the works. The plan is to offer 12 or 15 local craft beers on tap.
“We’ve talked to Rhinegeist and Toxic Brew Co. in Dayton,” McCarthy said. Kallenberger also wants to include craft beer made nearby in Warren and Butler counties.
Roll On In also carries Smooth Cincy Coffee Co.’s craft cold brew nitro coffee served on tap. Two flavors are available: Elevate (vanilla and cinnamon) and Dark Side (dark chocolate).
For now, the eatery seats 40, with room for roughly eight outside on the sidewalk. When Kallenberger and McCarthy get their beer license, they will extend the outside seating to accommodate a total of 20 or 30.
Food Earns Fans
Since opening in June, the food has earned early praise; Roll On In has been so well-received that Kallenberger and McCarthy are contemplating expanding into the adjacent building with a complementary concept: a coffee bar and lounge. Kallenberger envisions a space with couches, recliners and Wi-Fi: “It’s like you’re going to your house with your buddies, and you’re going to have coffee and hang out for a while.”
McCarthy never really planned to get into the culinary field; he has a degree in graphic design from the University of Cincinnati in Blue Ash. He’s no stranger to the restaurant business, though: During college, he worked at a sushi bar and later helped his friend open a restaurant.
Kallenberger brings the wisdom of a proven entrepreneur to the partnership. He got his start in the auto-collision industry, growing a single body shop to 12 different locations in Cincinnati, Dayton and Indiana. Since the sale of his business, he has moved on to other projects including a car wash (soon to open in Monroe), a gasification unit capable of running a car or generator, and even a new net design to more effectively catch fish, butterflies, lizards and other critters.
These days, trendy restaurants tend to launch in and around Downtown, particularly in Over-the-Rhine. So why did these entrepreneurs choose Lebanon?
“I wanted a small-town feel … to get the procedures in place and prove out the concept,” said Kallenberger, who lives in Morrow.
The eatery is attracting millennials from around the area, looking for an alternative to making the drive to Over-the-Rhine, Kallenberger added. The duo hopes to expand to multiple locations in the near future.
Roll On In
44 E. Mulberry St., Lebanon
11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 3-9 p.m. Sunday
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.