McALLEN — Meet Mr. Fast: an unlikely hybrid of convenience store and sushi bar offering a smorgasbord of choices for those able to suspend judgment about buying gasoline and raw fish in the same place.
Allen Jung, owner of the 3921 N. 10th St. business, said some have doubted the location and the unique combination. He said while the spot is prime real estate, there’s been plenty of turnover as several convenience stores there have opened and closed their doors. His solution: Keep customers coming back for more with a creative concept that offers one-stop shopping.
“The Valley definitely needs this kind of concept,” Jung said. “People say it’s a crazy idea, but people love it.”
Walk inside Mr. Fast to find breakfast tacos and sushi side by side. Convenience store staples are displayed on the other end of the store. Also on sale are fruits and vegetables such as melon, jicama and pineapple.
Customers eat in a sit-down dining area with a décor that mimics a sushi bar, though there are still remnants of a check cashing service on one wall, as pop music plays over the store speakers.
Jung declined to disclose the monthly rent he pays for the nearly 4,000 square feet, but he called it “pricey.” The store sits on the corner of Nolana and 10th Street — two of McAllen’s main arteries.
What likely makes Mr. Fast stand out to customers, besides its unique combination, is the $2.95 price tag for all sushi dishes, including most custom orders. The bar is open until at least 10 p.m. and offers six different kinds of $1 draft beer. Customers may purchase a drink from the convenience store to go with their meal. Tacos and nachos are also sold two for $1.
The store also gives a free breakfast taco with every gas purchase of $20 or more, Jung said.
Jung admits he loses money on alcohol sales. He said he tries to set prices that match the average consumer income, despite increasing costs, explaining he’s able to net a small profit margin with high sales volume driven by low price points.
Jung said he also reduces his expenses when he buys his own fresh vegetables wholesale in Mission three times a week, cutting down on delivery costs. He also does other work, like contracting or decorating, on his own, he said.
“My management idea is: I work harder, my customer (is) more happy,” Jung said. “That’s my concept. I work 24/7. That’s my hobby almost.”
On Wednesday, Ulises Aguilar, an employee at the nearby Osment’s Appliance Center, ate sushi at Mr. Fast. He admitted the concept might sound strange, but said he goes there regularly since the store opened in January.
“I’ve tasted sushi from other places, and I just love this sushi with the eel sauce,” Aguilar said. “If I’m going to get sushi — I know it sounds kind of crazy to some people, but it’s real good.”
He said he likes the atmosphere later in the day, too.
“I like especially late, like around 6, it’s kind of like a bar,” he said.
Jung said competition is stiff as more sushi bars have opened over the past few years. The popularity of the dish has grown to the point where it’s now offered as a kind of “Mexican sushi” or at H-E-B and other places with American-style sauces like spicy mayo, he said.
It’s not exactly the original food, but some born out of customer choice and demand, he added.
“Fifteen years ago when I came to (the) Valley, a lot of people (were) negative about the sushi,” Jung said. “Beginners, they never try sushi. Now, they have fried sushi or (sushi) just like burritos.”
The business owner said his clean kitchen and fresh, quality ingredients should persuade people to try Mr. Fast before they pass judgment.
Jung — a friendly man nicknamed “the human calculator” and originally from Seoul, Korea — has lived in the Rio Grande Valley for more than 15 years. He also owns the Kohnami sushi bar at 2005 W. Nolana and a downtown fast food spot that sells Chinese food and pizza. Mr. Fast is his creation and the first one still exists in California, where he lived before moving to the Valley. He also opened a Kohnami location in Santa Fe, N.M., which still operates, though he does not own it.
Business here, he said, is not as brisk as five to six years ago. He attributes that to drug cartel violence in Mexico that has stifled travel from there to here.
Still, this summer he plans to expand Mr. Fast’s menu. He said the store might offer a list of customized sushi rolls by customer name. Jung said he strives to meet customer demand by bringing new choices and he continues to study the economy, locations and population to stay ahead of the curve.
“That’s always (what) I’m working on,” he said, estimating 95 percent of customers return, though he has no advertising budget and relies on word of mouth. “I’m very happy for that. That’s the key to do business.”
Jacqueline Armendariz covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (956) 683-4434 or on Twitter, @jarmendariz.