It sounds like the start of a really bad joke, but it’s actually the tale of the Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar. Each night, the popular new Charlotte, North Carolina, restaurant serves 1,300 burgers and sushi on the same plate—a creation they call “burgushi.”
Alan Springate, BA ’94, and his restaurant partner, Marcus Hall, first cooked up the idea of burgushi in November 2010. You won’t find it in the Webster’s dictionary—at least yet. But burgushi is quickly catching on. The quirky term describes sushi rolls made with burger components.
Springate first opened a more traditional sushi restaurant in Charlotte, but came up with the concept for the Cowfish after realizing the hamburger restaurant he also owned at the time wasn’t doing well. “I remember thinking, ‘What if we do something totally off the wall?’ I took the three words [sushi, burger, and bar], put them together, and called my partner.” Hall first told Springate he was crazy. A few hours later he called back to say he was in.
Smart move. The two turned a profit just three months after opening the 5,900-square-foot restaurant. They quickly claimed the title of “Best New Concept” from Charlotte Magazine. The first week the Cowfish opened there was a wait, and it’s never stopped. (We’re talking two-hour waits most Saturday nights.)
Still, Springate admits he was nervous just before opening. “I knew it was either going to fly or be a monster flop. The idea of the place leaked before we were ready for people to know and we took a beating in the paper—people really angry about what we were doing with sushi.”
They quickly came around. “Charlotte really loves burgers and really loves sushi, and Cowfish has done a great job of offering both in a playful and delicious way,” says Charlotte Magazine food editor Aleigh Acerni.
Others have come around with a little more attitude. At Garden & Gun, one food writer called Cowfish “a crazily popular” but “gonzo” restaurant concept “that will sweep the country if God doesn’t strike down the owners for crimes against both burgers and sushi.”
Few people realize just how much being a Longhorn has influenced Springate’s latest success. The “Longhorn Cowfish” is a real fish that swims in the restaurants aquarium and serves as its popular logo. The menu also features Bar-B-Q-Shi, a type of burgushi that combines pork and fried onion rings in a seaweed roll topped with coleslaw.
The UT grad and his partner are getting ready to open a second location in Raleigh, N.C., but the father of three says he hopes to open a third location in either Dallas or Austin. He met his wife when they were both resident assistants at the Castilian dorm, and both their families still live in Texas. “We have our eye on the market,” he adds. “We’re kicking around the idea of Cowfish in Texas pretty seriously.”
Top: The Mary Had a Little Lamb-burgushi Roll features ground lamb, kalamata olives, capers, feta cheese, red onions and spring mix rolled hosomaki style with soy paper and rice. Each piece is topped with tzatziki sauce, diced tomato, English cucumber, fried capers and fresh chopped mint. Photo by Denny Deaton.