Since its doors first opened in 2002, Fuji Japanese Cuisine has been the go-to restaurant in Calhoun County for high-quality, delicious sushi and hibachi-style food. For over 20 years, loyal patrons have enjoyed artfully authentic Asian fare while creating memories with family and friends. As time passes, however, there comes a point when a business, especially in the food industry, may need to re-imagine itself, get a facelift, or expand in order to provide an even better experience for its customer base. Such is the case at Fuji’s, under the direction of owner/manager Mindy Li, who closed the doors of the restaurant after July 4th this year for renovations. Having just re-opened on the 1st of September, we wanted to get the scoop on the positive changes that have taken place at Fuji’s.
Fuji’s has always had two separate areas, as is customary in many Japanese steak houses–the sushi bar area and the hibachi grill area. In the past, Fuji’s sushi bar area would often suffer from over-crowding, as their elegant sushi creations have been a high-demand favorite among diners. As part of the restaurant makeover, the left wall of the sushi bar, which was originally lined with 3-4 booths, was totally removed, expanding the space to allow for more tables, while giving it a more spacious feel. Contemporary black marble-top tables with comfortable padded black chairs have replaced the former ones, while the walls have been brightened, enhancing the natural light in the room. New wood flooring coupled with art decor window displays that feature an interesting panorama of circles gives the bar a relaxed yet cutting-edge feel.
Mindy was happy with the added space, as one of their problems, before they closed, was customer wait times to get seated. With more tables, she’s confident that they can accommodate more patrons, thereby offering a better dine-in experience.What really catches the eye is the two fiber-optic string light fixtures dangling overhead that act as iridescent umbrellas of dazzling lights that change colors. Mindy was especially proud of this decorative feature, which she calls “skylights.” She joked that the lights made her “want to date again!” She is hopeful that children in particular will enjoy gazing at them. The lights are also intended to offset the fact that the former fish aquarium has been removed from the restaurant, as the manager shared that the maintenance of it had caused issues for them.Other stylish lighting can be observed in the large bar which has been a staple of the restaurant since its opening. The area below the countertop now glows in fluorescent shades that can be changed. When I was there, it was a soothing hue of blue that Mindy shared was her favorite for the bar so far. Below the light, a footrest has been added around the bar for the comfort of diners choosing to sit there. A couple more TVs have been added to the bar, rounding out the cosmetics and updated amenities in the dining room.Behind-the-scenes kitchen improvements include new appliances, namely, a new cooking wok, grill, range, and cooler.
But an innovative hi-tech addition to the restaurant will surely keep visitors talking for a long time to come. That would be their new waitstaff employee Bella–the robot! While not intended to be a replacement for regular waitstaff, Bella is a welcome addition to ease the workload when the restaurant gets busy. Her capabilities include carrying dishes to tables such as appetizers, sushi courses, and drinks. She can communicate with people, similar to how “Alexa” does, has a light-up screen with animated facial expressions, and can even sing “Happy Birthday” to those who happen to be celebrating that momentous event.
Bella is an example of cutting-edge technology that will probably be seen more and more in restaurants nationwide. Mindy discovered this inventive machine at a Restaurant Week convention in Orlando, Florida. Other types of robots are hosts and checkout cashiers. Of the three, Mindy shared, “We felt like Bella would be the one that we need, that we could really use. When we’re trying to make soup and salad for the customer or trying to run food to the table, she can run food or appetizers for us, so we can do other tasks.” “We still have a full-service staff, but we wanted to introduce this new technology. Bella is really smart! She doesn’t run into people, she will stop if there are objects in front of her, and she can interact.” Mindy’s only complaint was that Bella can’t sing other celebration songs with customers, and is considering making that suggestion to the manufacturer. The robot is operated through typed-in commands on her home screen, being pre-programmed by the manufacturer with relevant commands as well as a roadmap of the restaurant. If you’re expecting to see something resembling a human form, walking about and handing out items with robotic-like precision, that’s not the case. It’s more like a rolling cart, with multiple shelves on either side that can house items that either human servers can hand out, or customers can retrieve themselves.
Fuji’s menu still offers its variety of classic dishes, whether it be rolled, nigiri, or sashimi sushi; teriyaki or hibachi beef, chicken, shrimp, or salmon; fresh Japanese-inspired salads; or other Asian delights. But some menu additions are in the works such as a spring mix salad, squid salad, more “sushitizers,” sushi tacos, and a new feature–ramen noodle dishes.
Another change to mention–their banquet room, which was available for special parties and events before being closed due to the pandemic–also has been re-opened. Mindy hopes that customers will bring their celebrations to the restaurant as they have in the past. She expressed her joy over having bonded with customers for over a decade, seeing the children of return families mature from grade school to high school to college age, then return on occasion with their own children.
“I’m looking forward to Fuji’s having its ‘good ol’ days’ back. I grew up in Oxford, so Oxford is not just a place to live for me–it’s my home. So I wanted to do more to give back to the community.”
Mindy elaborated, expressing her desire for Fuji’s to be a place where community fund-raising events are held, especially those that support children’s causes. “It’s not just a business anymore. Giving back is important to me.” She also mentioned their customer rewards program, where return customers can acquire points upon return visits. For every 250 points acquired, they will be gifted a $25 discount towards their food purchase.
Finally, the outside of the restaurant will make an updated first impression on patrons with new LED signage that has replaced the former neon signs. The stylish red, white, and black messaging still includes Fuji’s blue mountain peak logo, though updated. Inside, their original sign with the peak still hangs on a side wall, celebrating their enduring legacy.
Fuji Japanese Cusine, located at 218 Davis Loop in Oxford, AL will be celebrating its Grand Re-opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Tuesday, September 26 from 11:00-11:30 am. They’ll be offering little gifts and food samples for visitors. Be sure to come out, meet Bella, and celebrate their changes and bright future ahead.