CEDAR RAPIDS — At MIX Sushi & Kitchen, there are plenty of sushi rolls to chose from, but diners can also dig into Hawaiian poke bowls, Korean fried chicken or Chinese-style hot and sour soup.
“We didn’t want to pigeonhole ourselves. We didn’t to give ourselves an ethnic name. We can do what we want, take things from different Asian cultures,” co-owner Kyle Franklin said. “Our whole goal is to have things from all the different countries.”
Franklin and Bryan Aung opened the eatery inside the downtown Cedar Rapids Armstrong building’s mini-food court July 1, serving breakfast and lunch. They’re expanding to include dinner service this week.
Sushi chef Aung was born in Myanmar and spent years living and working in Malaysia before moving to the United States. In Malaysia, he worked in a variety of restaurants, including Japanese and Chinese, and learned a range of cuisines.
Aung moved to Cedar Rapids from Indianapolis to be a chef at Fresh Market. After that grocery store closed, he met Franklin while both were working at Mandarin Spice Asian Grill in Marion and talked of opening their own place. Franklin talked with the owners of the Armstrong Building about their idea, and he worked with Kirkwood Community College’s Small Business Development Center to craft a business plan.
“I’m excited for Cedar Rapids. I grew up here. It’s nice to be at a point in my life where I can be part of things that are happening,” Franklin said.
Franklin worked in publishing and graphic design before working at Mandarin Spice as the front of house manager, and he used that experience to design the eatery’s logo and signs.
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He said a future goal is create a brand with MIX that can be replicated down the road, whether with additional locations or spin off restaurants focused on certain cuisines. They would like to add at full-service restaurant with dinner service to complement the current location’s focus on counter-service lunch and breakfast.
The main offering on MIX Sushi & Kitchen’s menu is sushi, with specialty dragon rolls and maki rolls, as well as nigiri and sashimi. They have soup, including hot and sour and miso ramen, and dishes like the naan-mi, a take on a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich, but made with gluten-free Indian flatbread instead of baguette. For breakfast, they serve things like Korean street toast, a sandwich with veggie omelet, ham and cheese.
“Our goal is to do fusion, but rather than Asian-American fusion, it’s Asian-Asian fusion,” Franklin said. “We’re trying to put our own spin on it and do something unique and different. The menu is the mix of things we wanted to do.”
They have $10 lunch combos with options like spicy tuna roll or Korean fried chicken served with crab wonton and spring roll with a MIX chop salad and a drink. They also offer sushi combos.
Franklin said he has many friends who eat gluten-free, so he uses rice panko for breading and gluten-free flours to make naan flatbread. He also makes a point to keep soup broth vegetarian when appropriate to accommodate more diners.
Franklin said they saw a hole in the Cedar Rapids restaurant market they could fill with another menu specialty, poke bowls, as well as ramen and Korean dishes like bulgogi and bibimbap. Poke is a traditional Hawaiian dish of chopped raw fish, and MIX’s bowls feature tuna, salmon or kani (imitation crab) with cucumber, avocado, pickled radish, purple cabbage, edamame and masago (smelt roe).
Despite the varied menu, the restaurant doesn’t have a lot of wasted food, he said.
“The nature of Asian cuisines is being able to use a lot of the same ingredients in different dishes,” he said.
For example, if they have cabbage salad left at the end of the day, they sear the leftover cabbage for the next day’s egg rolls.
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Aung handles the sushi chef, and Franklin cooks many of the other items on the menu. Cooking has long been a passion, but this is the first time he’s worked behind the scenes in a restaurant.
“Every Sunday since I was 21 or 22 I’ve had friends over. I like to cook in general,” he said. “It’s been fun to be back there and cooking and coming up with some of the recipes.”
Franklin said he’s learned about Korean food by traveling to the country for work and from the Korean wife of a former employer, who showed him how to cook different dishes.
“It’s been fun to learn. It’s pretty straightforward. Everything is fresh,” he said. “I just enjoy how food brings people together, and I enjoy bringing people together over a table. You spend the day cooking, and then you get your friends over and see them all enjoy it.”
A restaurant is just a bigger version of that table.
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If you go
• What: MIX Sushi & Kitchen
• Where: Armstrong Building, 210 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday
• Details: (319) 200-1028, mixsushikitchen.com