Meet Your Merchant: Way Yum Sushi celebrates 20 years |

Meet Your Merchant: Way Yum Sushi celebrates 20 years

Laura Thorne, right, owner of Way Yum Sushi, preps Thursday's batch of sushi for delivery with employee Heather Christopulos.
Cory Fisher/ |

Way Yum Sushi to Go


Found in area markets and by custom order

Facebook: Way Yum Sushi to Go

Twenty five years ago, Laura Thorne was fortunate to learn the art of sushi making from renowned chef Kaoru “Ru” Suzuki at Miya Sushi in Auburn.

At the time, Thorne’s two sons were young, and she was eager to move from Auburn to enroll her kids in Grass Valley schools. As a result, she left the sushi restaurant she loved and landed a job working with children with disabilities at Union Hill Elementary.

One day, while helping a student retrieve money stuck in a vending machine, she experienced a severe electric shock.

“It was bad — it threw me down the steps,” said Thorne. “After that, I couldn’t raise my arm and I was unable to do the job, which required transferring students to and from wheelchairs.”

“He took one bite and said, ‘Wow, this is way yum!’ That’s how I got the name for Way Yum Sushi — I’d love to find him someday and thank him.”— Laura Thorne

Worker’s compensation consultant Alice Johnson worked with Thorne to figure out a new career, given her new limitations.

“I told her I didn’t know what else I could do besides making sushi,” said Thorne. “Alice advocated for me — she asked the state to pay for a portable sushi bar, and worker’s comp actually paid for it. Alice is my hero.”

‘Way Yum’ indeed

Thorne was off and running — she began booking street fairs. Inside her pop-up sushi bar, her sons would take the orders and run the cash register while she made the sushi. She was grateful for the exquisite artistry she had learned from Ru Suzuki, her original sensei, who now owns Sushi in the Raw in Nevada City.

The food was a hit, and before long Thorne opened “Sushi to Go” inside the Harmony Ridge Market on Highway 20. It was instantly popular with the mountain bikers who rode the nearby trails.

One day, a rough looking motorcyclist wandered in and declared that he didn’t like sushi because he didn’t like raw fish. Thorne instantly saw it as a challenge.

“I had him watch me make a California roll with crab, cucumber, soy and wasabi, because he said he liked spicy things,” said Thorne. “He took one bite and said, ‘Wow, this is way yum!’ That’s how I got the name for Way Yum Sushi — I’d love to find him someday and thank him.”

In February, Way Yum Sushi celebrated its 20th anniversary. Now based in a meticulously cleaned, custom commercial kitchen in Nevada City with a staff of five, the majority of Thorne’s business is wholesale. Large accounts include BriarPatch Food Co-op, Natural Selection, Savemart and the cafe inside Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital. The Way Yum Sushi crew begins assembling sushi at 5:30 a.m. daily, with Thorne out the kitchen door by 9 a.m. for deliveries.

For all ages

The crew also does catering, making “sushi boats” for two to 200 people. Some nearby businesses order weekly. Thorne has also been teaching sushi-making classes for 22 years, locally and through the Sacramento Learning Exchange. Among her favorites are her classes for children, one geared for ages 10 to 16, another for those under 10.

“I even had two 4 year olds in my class,” said Thorne. “We make veggie California rolls — it’s a blast.”

While her signature “Way Yum Roll” made with shrimp, tuna, avocado and special sauce is a consistent crowd pleaser, Thorne enjoys coming up with new organic creations, such as her latest “Spicy Tango Roll,” made with tuna and mango, and smaller California and veggie kids’ rolls, an idea suggested by parents who wanted affordable sushi for their children’s lunches.

Looking forward, Thorne says she doesn’t want to change much at all when it comes to her business — all is running smoothly as is.

“I feel so grateful that things turned out the way they did,” she said. “My sons, Casey and Justin, are now 28 and 30. The best part about this experience was having my kids grow up with the business. I was a single mom and we did it together.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at

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