Indah Sushi, a popular Asian food truck, has staked out a permanent home on the outskirts of downtown Whitefish.
Owners and self-dubbed “sushi gypsies” Tiffany Newman and Stacey Ingham have expanded their offerings, but remain committed to bringing high-quality sushi with beautiful presentation to the Flathead Valley. They opened the doors to their Second Street home June 19 and are serving dinner three nights a week.
And their fans have taken note.
After 8 p.m. on a hot Wednesday evening, the crowds were as persistent as the sun, spilling onto the patio and filling the interior of the restaurant. Even the bar was fully occupied with shorts-clad customers enjoying plates of raw fish and an up-close look at the sushi chefs before them. Outside, spread over three tables, a group of 20-somethings devoured roll upon colorful roll while sipping Pellegrinos.
Among them was Katie Yurashak, of Butte, who considered Indah’s new spot a logical next step for the business.
“The food truck does amazing and it’s great that they can take it on the road, but this is going to be a staple of Whitefish,” she said. “Having a bigger kitchen allows them to showcase the creativity they’ve already done.”
But Newman and Ingham didn’t originally set out to open a restauraunt.
The food truck, which they launched in July of 2015, was the perfect fit for the two sushi lovers. Before hitting the road, Newman worked for a number of sushi restaurants in Montana and Colorado, while Ingham was a culinary-school graduate. Together, they took their restaurant on wheels to farmers markets in Whitefish and Columbia Falls, Rebecca Farm events, Arts in the Park and even to Arizona for the winter last year.
“It was really nice to be able to go the farmers markets and places where there were already huge crowds instead of sitting there twiddling our fingers,” Newman said.
But as their following grew, so did opportunities for expansion. A friend in real estate called the pair earlier this year and told them about a listing in Whitefish they just had to see.
“It was such an incredible opportunity to get a location like this in the format that it was that we just kind of had to say yes,” Newman said.
The restaurant, located at 250 Second St., includes a kitchen roughly twice the size of their truck, seating space for 60 customers and a 900-square-foot patio area, complete with a fireplace.
“Starting out in a food truck gave us a lot of insight on how to be fast and to push a lot of food in a short period of time and handle a lot of customers,” Ingham said. “I honestly think that that’s what’s made us be good — you have to be, otherwise you’re not going to make it.”
The expectations for service inside their new sit-down restaurant are also much different from the food-truck setting.
“In the food truck, the expectation is speed,” Newman said.
“It’s a little bit more about the presentation and the ambiance here,” Ingham added.
The 1,787-square-foot restaurant and large, open kitchen have allowed the pair to store more food, and thus expand their menu. In addition to a wider array of sushi options, they now serve up sushi rolls for dogs made from leftover fish and fish skins, and are planning to launch a hot menu in the fall featuring Asian staples such as ramen and dumplings. In the winter, they’ll use the downstairs basement to brew their own house sake.
Even though the two restaurateurs have big plans for their new home, they also feel it’s important to monitor their growth. The opening of the brick-and-mortar restaurant means the food-truck component of Indah Sushi will be scaled down for the summer. They’ll maintain their steady presence at local farmers markets, but won’t turn up at quite as many specialty events.
“Up to this point, Tiff and I have made every meal that’s ever come out of Indah, and now we’re expanding,” Ingham said. “We’re trying to do it slowly, which is why we’ve got limited nights that we’re doing dinners, just so that we can maintain the quality and the presentation. … I think if you grow too fast or try and do too much at once, you can lose that vision.”
Indah Sushi is currently open for lunch Monday through Saturday and for dinner Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights from 6 to 10 p.m., with the goal of adding more evenings once staff members are fully trained.
Sushi, the owners say, is a precision art that takes time and practice to learn. Everything from the texture of the rice to the cut of the vegetables and portion of the fish has to be exact to create the perfect roll.
“The right cut opens the flavors in a different way and I think that’s one of the things that takes time to learn and to understand,” Ingham said.
And when it comes to training, they’ve been busy. The permanent location has meant an addition of 15 employees to the team.
“We’ve been really lucky to hire people who are self-starters,” Ingham said.
Many of the Indah team members were already fans of the food, which, Ingham said, makes it much easier to get them up to speed.
“They can tell our story and understand it,” she said.
A big part of that story revolves around the combination of natural food and a relaxed environment.
“Everything is as fresh as it can be, as seasonal as it can be,” Ingham said. “The fish is all sustainable, so we don’t do eel or any of these things that are being over-fished. We just don’t believe in it.”
Instead they focus on serving up wholesome ingredients sourced locally — their produce comes from Produce Depot, which sources from area growers such as Earthstar Farm, and Indah’s fish is delivered daily from Flathead Fish and Seafood.
The inside of the restaurant reflects their food-truck roots — it’s a simple, homey environment with not one white tablecloth to be found.
“We just love this building — it’s understated, it’s kind of goofy,” Ingham said. “I wouldn’t want anything ostentatious. We don’t want to come out of the gate [with] white tablecloths — we’re food truckers that moved inside. We’re going to make you some great food, have a great time; music’s going to be turned up.”
It’s a “come as you are” type of place.
Bring your dog, bring your kids.
But most importantly, bring your appetite.
Reporter Mackenzie Reiss may be reached at 758-4433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.