Small sushi shop on a roll when cruise ships come to town

Travel News from Stuff - 11-12-2023

It is not uncommon to see dozens of people in and outside a small sushi shop in a port town.

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On cruise ship days, space is at a premium inside Sushi Johnny, a small restaurant and takeaway on the main street of Port Chalmers (population 1400), about 13km from Dunedin.

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But while the business attracts the odd visit from some of the thousands of cruise ship passengers who visit the town each season, it has carved out its own niche with those port visits – the crew.

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Sushi Johnny owner Johnny Dain, has operated the restaurant alongside his wife Eva for the last seven years. Over the years, the couple have diversified and supplied sushi for lunch options at several local schools.

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A growing part of their business has been fielding requests from crew members – particularly fellow Filipinos – on board cruise ships all over the world.

While some crew might order some sushi, the majority were after one thing – a taste of home.

So over the years the couple have added a Filipino menu, which led to the restaurant fielding a large number of requests before the arrival of any ship.

That included requests for crispy pork leg (crispy pata), deep fried pork belly (lechon kawali), and pork blood strew (Dinuguan), with a very Filipino touch: unlimited rice and soup.

More than 120 cruise ships were scheduled to arrive at the port town over the 2023/24 season, and while the tourists often venture into Dunedin, many of the crew tend to stay closer to their floating home.

That led to the store becoming a hive of activity on those dates, with sometimes dozens of crew waiting in and outside the small store.

“Some are just ordering takeaway and taking it back on the boat,” he said.

His favourite comments involved people saying the food was “like my grandmother’s cooking”.

“They feel like home.’’

Dain estimated he served 70-100 crew members each cruise ship day, with Dunedin usually the first or last port of call for any cruise ship in New Zealand.

Those visits were helped by word-of-mouth comments posted online, leading to many enquiries.

Crew arriving in port having time-off, would use that time to not only eat Filipino food, but also to contact loved ones back home, utilising the free Wi-Fi.

Eva Dain said it was not uncommon for the couple to meet people they knew.

While there were only a handful of other Filipino families in the Port Chalmers area, some of the locals were now asking for the Filipino speciality dishes to be on the menu every day.

“That is great,” he said.

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