MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — All aboard hungry Minnesotans, next stop: flavor town.

Sushi Train, located at 1200 Nicollet Mall C3, is giving customers a traditional and hands-on way to order the popular Japanese cuisine.

“It’s so nice to see them and like get an idea of what’s on it and what it looks like,” said first-time customer Katie Kelly.

Sushi Train features a conveyor-belt style of service. Instead of waiting for a waiter or waitress to take your order, customers feast their eyes on a 200-foot long conveyor belt that weaves around the tables carrying more than 50 types of sushi. The plated food sits atop a label showcasing its name. Customers can look at the menu to learn its ingredients before diving in.

“I really think conveyor belt is going to be the future,” said restaurant co-founder Kevin Ni.

The conveyor belt concept dates back to 1950’s Japan, Ni said. Based on his research, he said most conveyor belt sushi restaurants are found in Seattle, Washington, California or along the East Coast.

Sushi Train is the first to have one in Minnesota.

“If they have something in front of them so they can see it with good quality food, people are going to enjoy it more,” said Ni.

The plates are color-coded, which each color signifying a price. The plates range from $1.95 up to $5.50.

Each plate holds two to four pieces, making them easy to share and leaving customers hungry for more.

“You kind of get into it and grab a bunch of plates, it doesn’t add up to that much,” said first-time customer Stephanie Hammer.

The belt is computer-operated, and a full rotation takes eight minutes. Ni said each plate has an RFID chip inside. Once placed on the conveyor belt, a sensor reads the chip and a timer is set. That way, the food sits on the belt for a maximum of 30 minutes before it is taken off.

“That way we can keep the best and freshest food out there,” said Ni.

Almost methodically, Ni checks on the customers seeking feedback.

He hasn’t done any advertising, simply relying on word of mouth and curiosity to fill the seats. And with each video or picture customers post to social media, it’s clear his marketing strategy is on the right track.

“It was awesome, I will definitely be back,” said Hammer.

Sushi Train is open until 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends. Ni suggests people get there well before closing time, because the food will run out.

Jeff Wagner