Sushi, Drugs and Rock’n Roll


Photo by Adam Swank


The previous owner, Shige, who died of cancer was a legend, according to Toshi.  Shige was a sushi chef and one of the owners of the restaurant. He came to the restaurant every day and partied with customers and staff. It all sounded something you saw on TV:  “True Hollywood Stories,” or something like that.

“He was energetic and charismatic,” Toshi said.

“He also drank a lot partied a lot. Shige was friendly and everyone loved him. I’ve heard that because of him, many of customers came back to Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi,” Toshi said.

Shige was a regular drug user. During the 80’s and the 90’s, many of the restaurant’s patrons came to Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi to party and many of the used and purchased drugs at the restaurant. Eventually, some drug dealers started to come to the restaurant to hang out and sell drugs to the customers. Many of the dealers did well on weekends just handing out the restaurant, drinking and eating sushi. The place was literally rocking.

It took me a while until I learned that Toshi and Kai were regular coke user as well as Alejandro in the kitchen and Juan was a regular pothead, smoking every day.

Juan was a Mexican sushi chef at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi. When I started working there, Juan had already over one year of experience working at the sushi bar. He started as kitchen chef several years ago and gradually, learned the art of sushi making filling in the sushi bar when things got busy during the weekend. Toshi and Kai taught him how to make rolls, slice fish and nigiri. Juan took on really well.

I was most impressed with how fast Juan made sushi. Given that Toshi and Kai had almost seven to eight years of experience, Juan could make a roll faster than anyone else. It seemed that, because he was non-Japanese, he was trying so hard, harder than other chefs, to learn and master the true art and philosophy of being a sushi chef. I suppose that was why we liked Juan better than Tom, not because he was Mexican and Tom was white, because it was Juan’s attitude and enthusiasm.

Juan was also younger than any of us. While we were all in our thirties, He was twenty-eight. Toshi told me that he was in a Mexican gang before he started working at Rock ‘n Hollywood Sushi.

“I remember when he started working here, he was, well, scary looking. His eyes were sharp, as if a hawk looking for a pray, but not a hawk, you know? It was more like Hyena,” Toshi told me.

I had difficulty imagining what Juan looked like a couple years ago, because Juan I knew was happy, friendly, laughing, hard working, loved making sushi and eager to learn the sushi. He seemed to be enjoying the every moment being a sushi chef.

“Juan has a couple of kids,” Toshi told me.

“Really? He is a father?”

“Yep, he is married, too.”


None of us Japanese chefs were married.

“I guess that is why Juan is such a hard-worker, right?”

“I suppose. He has a family to support and that’s doing him a good. He cleaned up, quit being a gang member and became legit, you know?”

So, you can imagine how surprised I was when I found out Juan was smoking pot every day. I’ve never guessed he was high all the time giving that he moved so fast.

“You didn’t know? Juan-chan smokes pot almost every day since he started working here. Everyone knows.”

I was dumb shocked.

“How could anyone move so fast on pot?” I asked Toshi.

“It’s a mystery to us, too. We have no idea. If I smoke like Juan, I would never be able to move that fast. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to work at all,” said Toshi.

“When I smoke pot, I want to be alone. After getting high, I want to stay in my home alone, watch TV or play a video game, so it’s quite astonishing how Juan-chan could work after smoking,” Kai said.

To get an answer, I figured that the quickest way was to ask Juan himself.

“It relaxes me,” Juan said.

“You never feel fatigued, or want to lay down on the floor?”

“No, not at all.”

I guess it all depends on your body and chemistry.

“I heard you used to be in a gang and now I see you working really hard. I think it’s good.”

“You know, I am grateful for Shige to give me the chance to work here. Without him, I wouldn’t be here and I could still be in a gang and probably, ended up being shot and die. I own Shige my life, and now he is gone, I am sad, but I am grateful.”

Juan’s story was inspiring. Later on, he was moved to the sister restaurant, which Saito bought.


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