‘It was time to jump on that opportunity’: Santa Rosa resident opens sushi restaurant at 18 years old

“Me and my dad had been working together for three to four years and we finally decided we wanted to open a place of our own in Santa Rosa,” Robert Phouthavong said.|

Makizushi

Owner: Robert Phouthavong

Location: 3082 Marlow Road Ste B3, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday

Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Dinner: 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.

www.makizushisr.com

The conventional wisdom holds that teenagers spend too much time on the internet and not enough time learning. It also holds that the path to success in business goes through college.

But Robert Phouthavong is laying waste to those ideas.

The 18-year-old Santa Rosa High School graduate opened his first restaurant, Makizushi, just before Christmas, and he’s setting his sights on more.

He began working in a Sebastopol sushi restaurant with his father at age 15, and used popular platforms like YouTube and TikTok to research what it would take to open his own establishment, how to pass inspections and how to apply for permits and licenses.

“Me and my dad had been working together for three to four years and we finally decided we wanted to open a place of our own in Santa Rosa,” he said.

“I saved up money for the past three and a half years and also got help from my friends and family who invested in my business and help me get the restaurant.”

After Phouthavong graduated from Santa Rosa High School in June, there was question what he wanted to do.

He’d been eyeing the location in Rosewood Village on Marlow Road for a while and approached the owner about buying it.

The timing was perfect. The owner wanted to retire, and was ready to make a deal.

Friends and family all pitched in to help set up building inspections, get the right permits and work on the interior to get the restaurant ready for customers.

The whole process, he said, took a few months, with a lot of late nights and long days.

“I didn’t sleep, I only got like two to three hours a day just trying to get everything done,” he said.

His girlfriend’s father, who works in contracting, helped Phouthavong set up inspections and fix up the place.

At 18, he is too young to obtain a liquor license on his own, but his aunt, Lisa Miller, is part of the LLC he set up and was able to make the application on his behalf to sell sake, beer, wine and cocktails.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, said that it is rare for someone so young to start a business. However, she said, “a couple of youngsters” have really hit it off, usually with strong parental support and assistance.

“Back in the day, we would say go to college and get a good job, but I think more people are seeing entrepreneurship as a way of life,” she said. “I also think the social enterprise element also plays in there, especially for young people who want to really have an impact in their community.”

Phoutavong’s restaurant, 3082 Marlow Road in Santa Rosa, serves sushi, bento, poke and more.

“The first day was hectic … but it’s been pretty good the past couple of days,” Phouthavong said. “Everyone that’s eaten here so far said the food was good.”

Inflation and recession concerns have kept small businesses from opening or expanding until economic uncertainty dies down. Phouthavong said since he found his location for a good price, he felt that now was the time to open his restaurant.

“The previous owner wanted to retire and it was just a great offer that he offered me,” Phouthavong said.

Despite being able to open his first business at 18, Phouthavong doesn’t plan on slowing down. He plans to open more Makizushi locations throughout Sonoma County while also doing what he loves, like powerlifting and being a personal trainer for his friends.

He also has no intention of limiting himself to the restaurant industry. He also wants to begin flipping houses and sell them once Makizushi expands.

“Some counties have been on the rise with the populations growing a lot,” Phouthavong said. “I just feel like (the county) is going be big one day with a lot of people here.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sara Edwards at 707-521-5487 or sara.edwards@pressdemocrat. com. On Twitter @sedwards380.

Makizushi

Owner: Robert Phouthavong

Location: 3082 Marlow Road Ste B3, Santa Rosa, CA 95403

Hours: Tuesday through Sunday

Lunch: 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Dinner: 4:30 to 9:30 p.m.

www.makizushisr.com

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