May 11, 2023

How Rock N’ Roll Sushi plans to grow from 62 to 250 units in 5 years


The Asian concept, which originated in the Southeast, is pursuing growth in states like Arizona, Colorado and Nevada.

By: Julie Littman
Published May 8, 2023

Prior to meeting his future wife, Rock N’ Roll Sushi founder Lance Hallmark had never eaten sushi before. That changed when the pair worked together at Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the 2000s. 

After Gerri Mach Hallmark turned him on to the cuisine ,Lance has loved it ever since. In 2010, the couple opened the first Rock N’ Roll Sushi in Mobile, Alabama, Rock N’ Roll Sushi CEO Chris Kramolis said. 

The concept grew organically, reaching five units by 2014 before beginning to franchise that same year. Kramolis said the Hallmarks’ efforts to make sushi approachable contributed to the chain’s success.

“It’s the rock and roll vibe that makes it unique and different to other sushi concepts,” Kramolis said. “You can come in there in hats and shorts. It’s not a high-end sushi place.” 

When guests come into the restaurant, they are greeted by TV screens playing music videos of modern and classic rock and roll songs, Kramolis said. 

“[The music] is a big part of what we do and the approachability of the concept,” Kramolis said. “We crank up the music.” 

The restaurant, which has a menu that is divided into “Opening Acts,” “Classics,”  “Green Room, “Headliners,” “Raw Tracks,” “Kids Rock” and “After Party” sections, offers Americanized versions of sushi, many of which can be fried or baked. Rolls also have names like Metalhead Roll, Pyro Roll, and Thriller that emphasize the rock and roll vibe. Guests can also pick items off of its “Hibachi Backstage” menu, which offers hibachi that is grilled to order in the back-of-house, Kramolis said. 

When Kramolis first heard about the concept, he had a hard time understanding its success. Kramolis was an area developer and multi-unit franchisee for Tropical Smoothie Cafe for 14 years, but left the brand in 2017. 

“When you hear the sentence, ‘My friend is blowing up a sushi concept in Alabama,’ your brain has a hard time processing. You’re like, ‘I don’t believe you,’” Kramolis said. 

The chain’s ability to attract demographics that were unfamiliar with sushi, like local families and blue collar workers. is part of the concept’s popularity, he said. 

Kramolis originally signed up to become a franchisee in 2019 and opened his first unit in Little Rock, Arkansas, later opening a second unit in the market and a third in Tallahassee, Florida. In 2020, he became Rock N’ Roll Sushi’s CEO after Tropical Smoothie Cafe’s founder, Eric Jenrich, bought a controlling interest in the company. The two were longtime friends and Kramolis introduced Jenrich to the brand. The pair recruited colleagues they trusted as multi-unit franchisees, which is how the brand landed some of its larger deals.

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