Upscale sushi eatery -- with conveyor belt -- to open at Columbia Center mall

Mizu Sushi & Roll -- opening later this month at Columbia Center mall -- is a fusion of Asian food and Asian decor.

"It's updated, upscale sushi," said owner Chung Yi, 51, of West Richland.

The decor -- lots of dark marble and chocolate tile highlighted with mirrors and lime green and red accents -- was designed by Yi.

"It's what you see in restaurants in big cities in Korea and Japan," said Yi, who grew up hanging around in his parents' restaurants in South Korea.

He moved in 1996 to the Tri-Cities, where he owned and operated three gas stations and convenience stores. Two months ago he sold the last of his Pik A Pop stores to put his resources into Mizu Sushi.

What will really catch customers' eyes as they walk in the door of the bright, modern restaurant is the conveyor belt snaking past the booths and bar stools. It's how the fresh sushi gets from the chef's knife to your table.

Chefs put small plates of prepared sushi -- each covered with a clear glass lid -- on the belt and customers watch as they glide past, helping themselves to what looks appetizing.

"It takes 16 minutes for the conveyor belt to make a circuit," said restaurant manager Patrick Cox. "This method of serving sushi is very popular overseas."

"It makes a show," said Yi.

The concept of conveyor belt delivery first crossed the Pacific to large cities along the West Coast -- there are several in the Seattle area and California. Recently, it jumped the Cascades, going first to Spokane where Sushi Maru opened in River Park Square.

Yi is good friends with the owner and, while not partners, they have a friendly working relationship.

"We help each other," Yi said.

Yi said he's thought of bringing the concept to the Tri-Cities for a long time and finally decided the area is ready.

"The Tri-Cities has become large enough and there are many, many people who travel and enjoy different cuisines. I think this is a great time for a restaurant like this," Yi said.

"I think younger generations will be most interested and enthusiastic," he said. "It's a shiny new concept and entertaining for the customer."

At Mizu, the 80 to 90 varieties of sushi will circle through the restaurant, gliding past booths and patrons on bar stools.

The sushi preparation area in the center of the restaurant is open so customers can watch the chefs slice, dice and assemble the sushi, putting each on a different colored plate.

The color denotes the price. Costs range from $1.65 to $3.30 per plate with a few -- sashimi and nigiri -- a bit higher. At the end of the meal, servers total the bill based on how many plates are on the table, plus any beverages or hot foods and salads ordered from the menu.

The restaurant includes a full-service bar with liquor, wine and beer.

"We have a high-end cappuccino machine and will also make our own sorbets," Cox said.

The target date for opening is Nov. 22, with a grand opening planned for the end of the month.

Hours are from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and Sundays.

The address is 1321 N. Columbia Center Blvd., Suite 907, Kennewick. Phone: 735-4433.