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My guest today took his love of food and faith one step further to start a business that impacts his community on a greater scale. Lawrence Yoo is the owner of Sushioki, a local sushi burrito restaurant in Durham, North Carolina. Sushioki is a restaurant with so much purpose and passion for people and the local community. Not only do they focus on sustainable, fresh, healthy ingredients, they also hire immigrants and refugees coming from vulnerable situations. No matter where you’re listening from today, I know you’ll be inspired by the work of Lawrence and his team to bring opportunities for families to build their lives in a new place. Join me as I sit down to chat with Lawrence, and if you’re local to Durham, get ready to run, not walk to Sushioki!
Lawrence has been around entrepreneurship his entire life. His father has owned a sandwich shop, construction company, market and restaurant. He’s the first-born son of a first-born son in an immigrant family and there was always a lot of pressure on him to succeed.
In high school Lawrence’s life was radically changed when he first heard the gospel and ever since, this life has been driven by the call God put on his life.
Lawrence had a desire to see new things come to life and see the community lifted up. About five years ago, he became a pastor and planted a church called Waypoint church. In the same year, he and his wife Gina had a baby and started Mebane Pediatric Dentistry.
You don’t have to have lots of special skills, education, or success to be faithful in the call God has put on your life. You only have to be obedient. That is the key to contentment.
Lawrence uses the entrepreneurial heart God has given him to better the community around him and believes the local church is called to look out for the welfare of the community to the glory of God.
One day the idea just came upon Lawrence to start a restaurant. He immediately found an elder in the church named Jeff Carter and shared his vision. Lawrence thought Jeff and his family would be a great team to start a restaurant with, even though Jeff already had a career in Pharmacy.
Being on the board of World Relief and Samaritan’s Health, Lawrence recognized that the biggest needs for refugees are sustainable, flexible jobs that pay a living wage.
Often refugee families come here with four or more children. Buses and public transpiration are difficult to navigate, affordable childcare is hard to find, children get sick, and school schedules fluctuate.
Lawrence wanted to build a company that would understand these difficulties of caring for a family in a new place; a company full of understanding, grace, and assistance while providing a sustainable, living wage.
While Lawrence recognized that restaurant industry can be tough, he thought it was the best entry point to help workers learn new skills in America. A twist on a traditional Korean sushi roll called Kimbop gave Lawrence an idea to create large, hand-held sushi rolls.
Jeff and Lawrence moved forward with their idea and brought on Jeff’s son Joey who had a lot of restaurant-management experience.
When they first began, they employed mostly refugees, but as the number of refugees coming to America has decreased, Sushioki has also hired immigrant and local families in vulnerable situations.
Most refugee families don’t plan on coming to America. They don’t want to leave their homes, but are forced to leave due to persecution, genocide, war, violence, etc.
When they arrive, they are so far away from home where they don’t know anyone or the language. It’s a terrifying experience.
When it comes to refugees, It’s not an us an them situation. We would all hope and pray that if we ever found ourselves in a situation where we had to up and leave our home at a moment’s notice and travel to an unknown place where we don’t speak the language, that we would be welcomed with open arms; that people we find along the way and upon arrival would be willing to give us a chance and a little help.
This is what it means to be a neighbor. Jesus said the most important commandment is to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.
Sustainable, flexible employment allows people the opportunity to self-support and provide for their families while they build a new life.
Lawrence is an ultimate optimist. If he had a theme song, it would be “Everything is Awesome” from The Leggo Movie. Tempering expectations has been difficult and while things have gone well, there is a delicate balance of running a business, using better ingredients, paying people well, being well-staffed, and treating people well.
This has forced Lawrence and his team to be longer sighted rather than short-minded. They believe that building a business this way is better in the long run.
Success usually doesn’t happen overnight, even though it often looks that way. Treating people well and using quality ingredients builds trust and loyalty if you’re patient enough to stick with your mission.
If you want to be excellent as an entrepreneur, be prepared to spend more money initially to do it well, knowing you’ll reap the benefits of that strong foundation in the end. Be prepared and know what to expect, and then prepare for a little bit more.
The RD Yoo –Poke marinated tuna, lettuce, pickled red onion, pickled ginger, cucumber wasabi sauce. They take the full tuna loin and filet it themselves instead of using leftover ground pieces of tuna.
Veggie Bender (vegan and gluten-free) –Mushrooms, lettuce, charred cabbage, shredded carrots, pickled red onion, green onion jam.
Oh My Gashi Bowl – Chicken katsu, lettuce, pickled cucumber, kimchi slaw, gochujang sauce. In bowl form you can get it on a bed of rice or greens or a half and half! This one is named after Jeff Carter! His grandkids call him “Gah,” hence the “Oh My Gahshi.”
Bull City Bulgogi (GF) is John’s favorite –Korean beef BBQ (marinated overnight), kimchi slaw, pickled daikon, boom sauce. If you don’t know, you need to know about boom sauce and G sauce.
I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry. If you live in Durham, you can find out more about Sushioki here. They’re open Monday-Saturday, 11am-8pm. If you just want to come visit for the day, Sushioki is a destination spot!
Find out what Lawrence is reading (which also includes a nerdy guilty pleasure), what his walk up song would be (and some debate over the correct lyrics), a dream he’s yet to achieve, and of course, what it means to Lawrence to run a business with purpose.
“We do the same things over and over again when it comes to social care but when it comes to business, we’re so innovative. Let’s do both and start being creative with how we’re helping the community.”
“How can we be intentional about thinking differently about how we serve the community?”
Lawrence Yoo has been lead pastor of Waypoint Church since it started in 2014. He and his wife, Jina, are raising two cute children, Josiah and Hudson. Lawrence, a Florida native, received his Master of Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, and attended the University of Florida for his undergraduate degree (Go Gators!). Lawrence desires to see this world changed from a “dog eat dog” world to a “doggie dog world” (click here to read about what this means) through the ministry of the local and global church. He has a passion for business as mission and has partnered with one of the elders at Waypoint to start Sushioki (click here to learn more), a sushi burrito restaurant whose mission is to make good food and hire refugees at a living wage. He is equally happy playing basketball as he is singing along to Hamilton.
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