‘One smile at a time’: Beloved Emerson figure Victor Choi opens sushi restaurant

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Photo: Adri Pray

Victor Choi’s restaurant, Pick N’ Roll / Photo: Adri Pray

By Tea Perez

Nestled between the Emerson Dining Center and Piano Row sits a brand new sushi restaurant, Pick N’ Roll Sushi, owned and operated by renowned itamae Victor Choi.

Choi, an experienced sushi chef, worked at Emerson’s Lion’s Den for 4 years before branching out to Pick N’ Roll Sushi. With the announcement of the opening, Emerson Today reported the location would accept ECCash and Board Bucks.

“The main reason we wanted to open a new store was that I was only selling to the students and as a business owner, I’m always trying to grow my business,” Choi said. “When I saw the lease become available for this location, I had to take the chance and just go for it.”

The proximity to the Emerson campus was a deliberate decision on Choi’s part, wanting to stay close to the community that has supported him over the years.

“I wanted to make sure that I was still here for the students. [They] are my main priority,” Choi said. “I had to make sure the Board Bucks and ECCash were still accepted for [them] so it’d be easier to access.”

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Unlike some surrounding campus restaurants—like Tatte Bakery and Cafe—Pick N’ Roll Sushi takes Emerson currency as a form of payment because it’s an official vendor on the college campus.

“I’m on the Emerson network… [I’m a] vendor here on campus,” Choi said. “My partnership with the property management here has been really tight and they’ve been super supportive of me and they’ve been helping me out every way they can.”

“It’s so convenient,” Leila Castellari, a senior visual and media arts major, said. “I live on campus, so you can just scan [your ID] and it’s easy. I love it.”

In addition to a new restaurant, Choi is also opening a sushi vending machine located in the lobby of Piano Row, which will take ECCash as well as debit and credit cards as payment. While a starting date hasn’t been released, Choi said he’s ready to get it up and running as soon as possible.

“[It] is coming into place. I just have to get all the right signage and the labels and everything in there,” Choi said. “That’s made fresh daily just like everything else in the store. I’ll go in there, fill it up as we need, and then throw it away the next morning.”

Choi’s own venture into the sushi industry wasn’t planned, taking up a part-time job as a sushi chef in college.

“When I graduated from college I was using my degree for a few years. I was working extremely long hours and I was grinding it out,” he said. “I said, ‘It’s time for me to work hard for myself.’ I had a lot of other ventures and a lot of ideas, but I always went back to what I did in the past [being a sushi chef].”

Choi’s decision to come to Emerson was influenced by the many opportunities provided by living in downtown Boston, but he said the Emerson student body ultimately made his experience positive.

“I’ve always moved around to different places, and when it came to Boston, [you’re just] an hour away from so many other major cities and you get all four seasons here,” Choi said. “I haven’t met a nicer student body population [than Emerson’s], it’s been amazing.”

Choi is a well-known figure on campus and is beloved by many. Castellari was first introduced through an Emerson promotional video featuring Choi.

“I saw an Emerson YouTube video where they interviewed him…and all the comments were like, ‘We love you!’ and ‘Icon!’,” Castellari said. “That was the first time I recognized his existence…but that [was such] a good, positive [first] impression.”

Kaitlin Curtis, a senior marketing communications major, recalls getting sushi from Choi at the Lion’s Den, experiencing firsthand the reason for his adoration.

“I remember going to get sushi and it was a fun experience because I got sushi, but I also got to have a really cool conversation with him. He was warm and open to having a conversation,” Curtis said. “He is always so open to seeing what Emerson students are up to and [he asks] questions about school and stuff.”

Besides his welcoming personality, Choi’s popularity stems from the quality of his food. The larger site at Pick N’ Roll Sushi has only improved that quality.

“The poke bowls are a step up,” Castellari said. “They have a huge space now. It’s a dedicated sushi space and it feels fresh. It’s so good.”

Choi is well aware of the status he holds within the community but doesn’t always understand why he holds it.

“I just try my best every day, I work hard to keep it consistent, and make sure the food quality is safe,” Choi said. “I know what it was like to be a student, so I just try to make it easy for everybody and give a smile.”