In the 20 years since Omaha-based Flagship Restaurant Group opened Blue Sushi Sake Grill with a fun and new way to experience sushi, the four owners of the steadily growing corporation have expanded their creative dining experience mantra far from Omaha to include ventures in nine states, with 1,100-some employees, and all coordinated from a growing corporate office staff of 35 operating out of 8,200 square feet at 14450 Eagle Run Drive, Suite 100.
Even those quarters are being remodeled in a $550,000 initiative that will include a 2,200-square-foot test kitchen that will employ five.
Tony Gentile, corporate executive chef and one of Flagship’s four owners, said the meticulously designed test facility will invite even more creativity and menu development.
“It will aid us in developing beverage and food programs for future [restaurant] concepts,” said Gentile, a Houston native who selected studying the culinary arts at the University of Houston over the other option his parents gave him after making messes on the kitchen floor at home.
“The other option was joining the military,” he remembered.
Gentile is joined in Flagship Restaurant Group by Omaha native and CEO Nick Hogan, who has a law degree from the University of San Diego; Millard native and President Tom Allisma, who has architectural credentials from University of Nebraska-Lincoln; and COO Anthony Hitchcock, an Austin native and graduate of Houston’s Conrad Hilton College.
At present, Flagship Restaurant Group operates 24 full-service locations and six fast-casual restaurants in nine states. In addition to Nebraska, the firm does business in Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Texas, Colorado, Ohio, Kansas and Indiana.
Hogan, who first tried sushi while at the University of Arizona, said the opening of Flagship’s first Blue Sushi Sake Grill in 3,100 square feet above what is now the firm’s corporate offices in 2002 was quite memorable.
“We were 27 or 28 years old at the time and it was wildly successful,” he said. “After 14 years in our original location, we moved just a few doors east of the original — with twice of the space.”
Additional Blue Sushi Sake Grill locations have been opened in The Shops of Legacy and the Old Market.
Plans for 2022 in Omaha include three new restaurants at 10th & Harney streets where two buildings have been acquired and will be developed. Additional expansions are planned for Kansas City, Birmingham, Tempe, and Phoenix.
“Our plan is to open five or six restaurants a year,” Hogan said.
Hogan said Blue Sushi Sake Grill’s relatively fast growth led the group in 2004 to debut its second concept: Roja Mexican Grill and Margarita Bar in The Shops of Legacy. Gentile said the menu is founded in Tex-Mex basics, including homemade flour tortillas, refried beans, chile con carne, fajitas, and cheese and onion enchiladas.
Lime margaritas are a specialty.
In 2012 the four partners rolled out their third concept: Blatt Beer & Table, immediately north of Downtown Omaha.
“It’s a hub for those who appreciate craft beer and curated pub food,” Gentile said, noting that additional locations have been added in Shops of Legacy and Flagship Commons at Westroads Mall.
The location at 610 N. 12th St. captures many fans at TD Ameritrade Stadium, nearby Creighton University athletic facilities, and events at CHI Health Center. The Blatt plays on the name of Rosenblatt, the name of Omaha’s former city stadium and the one-time home of the NCAA Men’s College World Series.
In 2013 Flagship Restaurant Group opened Plank Seafood Provisions, an oyster bar and seafood grill at 1205 Howard St., near two of its other restaurants in the Old Market.
Specialties include New England clam chowder, oysters and anchor steam drafts.
Unique in Omaha
In 2015, Flagship Restaurant Group garnered considerable media attention when in partnership with General Growth Properties on a 22,000 square foot “blank canvas” at the Westroads Mall into a Flagship Commons food court.
Allisma, a licensed architect and tenured teacher at UNL, said the 430-seat facility with an interior wrapped in red barn wood was the first of its kind in the Midwest. It has a variety of seating styles including booths, banquets, lounge chairs, counter seating, and a patio.
“The project and its concepts were born in Omaha and are being operated by Omaha folks,” he said. “It’s a Disneyland for people who love food with something for everyone.”
Hogan likened it to introducing existing and new local restaurant concepts while bringing a new entertainment element to food court dining.
“It presented a brand-new vision,” he said. “It was spurred by us and our desire to evolve creatively as (a group of) restaurateurs and to drive innovation in Omaha.”
Eight concepts currently occupy space in the venture on the second floor of the Westroads.
In 2020, Flagship Restaurant Group rolled out its seventh and most recent concept Revival House, an exotic cocktail bar in downtown Des Moines.
Within the past year, Flagship has partnered with New York-based Ivan Ramen — a noodle shop — to offer Ivan Ramen’s menu for delivery and takeout only through a ghost-kitchen-style operation set up in the kitchens of Blue Sushi restaurants.
Regarding growth, Hogan said Flagship Restaurant Group is targeting its growth on the Omaha market.
“With five new facilities in the downtown area, we’re developing some new concepts for this market,” he said. “There’s not that many groups out there doing what we’re doing at our level.”
Gentile noted that the Omaha-based firm’s seafood products such as tuna, eel, and salmon are purchased at a cost of about 25% more — often because the business adheres to a strict policy that the sourcing of seafood be raised responsibly and sustainably.
Last year, some 120,000 pounds of tuna, 15,000 pounds of eel and 90,000 pounds of salmon were bought.