Meet Jamie. He loves meat, cheese, and all things BBQ. Meet Lucille. She's a big fan of veggies, plant-based dishes, and all nature of healthy foods, plus a nice glass of red wine with dinner. Can this culinary marriage be saved? (Not our real names.) They need a local restaurant to love. Now they will have it.

Just in time for Valentine's Day, a new Beyond Sushi is opening up on the Upper East Side, bringing its special array of international-style dishes to a neighborhood not known for being a hotbed of vegans. But Beyond Sushi's genius founder and chef-creator Guy Vaknin innovates new dishes that everyone will love, and that attracts more non-vegans to his Asian fusion establishments than purely plant-based or vegan eaters (by a ratio of 60:40 percent).

This will be Vaknin's seventh Beyond Sushi location and will serve as an upscale outpost for a clientele that counts itself as "plant-leaning" or "plant aware" more than vegan. It truly will save marriages, especially those for whom one-half of the couple loves to eat plant-based and the other prefers the taste of meat. And since all the dishes are so powerfully delicious it doesn't matter what you usually eat; the array of choices will satisfy all eating preferences with taste to spare.

The Beet was treated to a lunch of Vaknin's most recent offerings, and to say it goes "beyond" sushi is an understatement. He pulls his inspiration from his home country of Morocco, with Asian and Mediterranean influences present in equal parts. Every single dish is delicious: From the Chipotle Seitan Skewers to The Fun Guy dumplings, and Spanakopita pastries, and of course Spicy Mang "Sushi" rolls, which are impossible to stop eating once you start. Vaknin's first six restaurants are now runaway hits, and he intends to bring the same "taste first" approach to his new location at 1429 3rd Avenue, opening this coming Friday.

Going 'Beyond' Sushi

Vaknin, who worked for his father in a catering business before entering the restaurant trade, was inspired to learn to cook from his Moroccan grandmother, then attended culinary school and entered the family business. And when they emigrated to Israel he again evolved his international taste. From there, after spending time in the army, it was on to the US, where, as a young chef out of ICE (International Culinary Education, he learned the importance of doing every job, from the set up to the cleanup, and all the chefing in between. Right out of school he joined his father's catering business and eventually -- like with many family businesses --he and his father clashed to the point where he decided to branch out on his own. He spent every dollar he had to open his own place. It was a $150,000 gamble, and it paid off.

"It was a Cinderella story," Vaknin says now, looking back on how things have worked out. When Beyond Sushi first opened its door it was vegetarian, and a popular destination from the start. But his early clientele wrote, harrassed, and badgered him to go all the way vegan. He listened. And the difference is what he credits with his long-term success. Vaknin himself wasn't vegan at the time but now he is, as is his wife and they are raising their two children vegan, one 5 years old and the other a toddler. Vaknin hasn't had meat in seven years, and in that time his empire has exploded.

'I Listened'

"I listened to my customers. How could I not? As a businessman you have to evolve and listen to demand since without your customers you are nothing." Ten months later opened his second restaurant, in the Chelsea Market. "My wife bugged a security guard into promising to tell her when space opened up." Next came number three, in midtown, "to play with the big boys," followed by another in the Garment District, and it was the largest vegan restaurant in Manhattan with 120 seats and 3,000 square feet. Then came one in Nolita, then the financial district.

He kept a space for catering—which was his first job, working for his father for five years before he went out on his own. Now he and his father are close, and Vaknin credits his success with the fact that he learned long ago that he had to get up at the crack of dawn, get to the market, learn to cook everything, even the sushi (a necessity when his sushi chef called in sick one day). He will do whatever it takes—build the restaurant himself, do the dishes, cook the meals, clean up. It's what drives him and makes him the success he is today. and it's also what keeps him from expanding to the West Coast since that would be hard to manage as he grows here. This dogged work ethic also got the attention of Shark Tank and his appearance there led to a deal from Laure Grenier and "guest shark" Matt Higgins. But in the ensuing negotiations, off-camera and weeks later, the deal fell apart and Vaknin decided to keep control of his company.

And next, he will open on the Upper East Side, home to some of Manhattan's least vegan most steak loving people I know. (Okay so I am referring to the men in my life:  My son, my brother and even my husband who tried to go vegan and ended up being vegan-esque when I'm around.) But if his new dishes are any indicator, this is a restaurant anyone and everyone can love, no matter what kind of food they like to put on their plate. We'll be there as soon as it opens. Jamie and me. Okay, so those were our real names. See ya at Beyond Sushi!

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