Bao rolls, crab rolls and community are the key to Zen Sushi
The bishop of the arts district only sushi restaurant marks its 14th year of operation this month.
Zen Sushi chef and owner Michelle Carpenter says she owes it to our neighborhood, who supported her from day one.
“These are my people. It’s my community, ”she says. “This is where I live. This is where I work. Much of my staff lives in Oak Cliff.
The menu has changed a bit in a decade and a half, but not by much.
Customers still love the Sakura Roll, Carpenter’s original creation, with crab, shrimp and clams in a soy wrap. Bacon yakitori is always a hit, as is beef gyoza, both popular from the start.
Newer items like the zen bruschetta, made with the unique combination of fried eggplant and raw tuna, have found an audience.
But longevity in this business is synonymous with consistency, and Carpenter sometimes has to curb his creativity.
“There are some items that I might like to change a bit, but I think my clients would be upset,” she says. “When I cook my Valentine’s Day dinner, I rarely change anything because customers like that same menu every year. “
But she tries to motivate her clients to try new things, and in turn, they challenge her with requests and suggestions.
Zen did well during the economic shutdown. The restaurant never closed and no one was fired, thanks to neighborhood patrons who frequently ordered take-out.
Now the challenge, as with any restaurant, is the labor shortage. It is difficult to hire enough workers, so virtually all restaurants are understaffed, just like everyone wants to start eating out again. Carpenter says food prices have also gone up and some items are harder to find due to supply chain frustrations.
But Zen remains open every day.
Carpenter recently served on the board of directors of the Bishop Arts Merchants Association and she frequently contributes to local nonprofits such as the Mammogram Poster Girls.
“I try to stay involved in the community and the events,” she says. “I like to know what’s going on and do my part.