September 5, 2023

On A Roll


Franchise phenom Sam Osborne serves sushi with mass appeal

By: Rochelle Koff
Published: August, 31, 2023

Sushi has become so popular that it’s practically mainstream fare. Still, some diners find ordering any type of raw fish to be a formidable experience. Rock N Roll Sushi aims to change that.

Two of the restaurant’s slogans are “Sushi Amplified” and “Dine Out Loud.”

The brand is known for its spin on the standard sushi menu and decor. It exudes a clubby look, with red leather booths, neon accents, screens broadcasting — not blasting — rock videos (from the ’80s to today) and displays of gold records.

The fan appeal extends from students to families with kids and grandparents.

Think of Rock N Roll Sushi as “an American-style sushi experience,” said Sam Osborne, a Tallahassee native and co-owner of the city’s two Rock N Roll Sushi locations.

“I didn’t realize it until I drove from the East to the West Coast that a sushi restaurant can be very quiet and intimidating,” Osborne said. “They don’t have what I call a fun vibe.”

With more than two decades of owning and operating restaurants in the Capital City, Osborne knows how to create the right environment.

He opened the first Tropical Smoothie Cafe franchise, located in Market Square, in 1998, and later launched Island Wing Company on the Northeast side of town. A few years ago, the 51-year-old father and Desert Storm veteran was on the ground floor of another new restaurant concept.

He and business partner Chris Kramolis opened Tallahassee’s first Rock N Roll Sushi in Market Square in 2021. The second site opened in 2022 on South Magnolia Drive. They’re among 70 franchise locations in the United States, most of which can be found in the Southeast.

The menu includes starters such as egg rolls, soup, salads and edamame, but the sushi rolls are the stars. They are as varied as the classic Japanese Bagel Roll, prepared with smoked salmon and cream cheese; the Reggae Roll, featuring Cajun-seasoned crawfish; and the Velcro Pygmies Roll, packed with red tuna and cream cheese.

For sushi-shy diners, Osborne recommends the crowd-pleasing Punk Rock Roll. Stuffed with shrimp tempura, spicy tuna and cream cheese, the Punk Rock Roll boasts acolorful mix of strawberries, pieces of avocado, jalapenos, cucumbers and drizzles of spicy mayo, chili-ponzu dressing and eel sauce on the outside.

Diners can skip sushi altogether. Hibachi-style grilled chicken, filet mignon, shrimp or lobster are served with soup or salad, fried rice, vegetables and mayo-based yum-yum sauce. Vegetable-based options are also available.

The last act is the Hall of Fame Brownies, a decadent stack of fried brownies topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, swirls of chocolate and caramel and a cherry.

For Osborne, the cherry on top is seeing customers explore the menu. Dessert is most likely a dine-in choice, but like most restaurants, Rock N Roll Sushi has experienced a boom of takeout orders.

“Thirty percent of our customers never walk in the door,” Osborne said. “Before COVID, there were only a few people doing takeout. It wasn’t a priority.”

Osborne isn’t a man afraid to adapt — or take risks. The two things he said he’d never do ended up being two of his best decisions: joining the military and being in the restaurant industry.

As for the first, Osborne joined the U.S. Air Force after high school at North Florida Christian.

“I wanted to do something different,” he said.  “When you’re outside of your comfort zone, that’s when you really figure out who you are.”

While in the Air Force, Osborne was in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. He worked on F15 planes, but he didn’t learn to fly until he left the military. It was his first time outside of Tallahassee, and he met people from all walks of life and cultures during those years.

“It was the most fun of my entire life,” he said. “I developed a great deal of appreciation for guys who go into the service.”

Back at home, Osborne became a fitness trainer while he was a student at Florida State University. The young entrepreneur was a senior when he became the first franchise owner for Tropical Smoothie Cafe.

“I opened it three weeks before my finals,” Osborne said. This was when his love affair with the restaurant industry began.

Between his four businesses — Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Island Wing Company and two Rock N Roll Sushi locations — Osborne employs about 170 people in Tallahassee.

“All of our money is spent locally,” he said. “Our vendors are local. Our employees come from the same pool of employees as other local restaurants. I live here. Tallahassee’s my home.”

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